Two of my [Dr. Novella’s] recent SGU blog entries were a response to an article written by Catholic apologist John Martignoni titled: Was Hitler Right? (Or: Why Atheists Have No Rights). I was intrigued to learn that Martignoni has taken the time to respond to my criticisms. He does so by piling more logical fallacies and sloppy thinking on top of his original rant, starting with some ad hominem attacks. He writes:
“One of the stated goals of the New England Skeptical Society (NESS) founded by Dr. Novella is improved standards of education for critical thinking skills. Well, if the critical thinking skills of the Founder and President are any indication of the organization’s record in this area, then I think we can say it has failed miserably in realizing its goal. My article is not an argument for the existence of God, as Dr. Novella seems to think. The article is all about first, how it is we, as human beings, have value; second, how it is we, as human beings, have rights. He completely misses the main arguments of the article and builds a number of strawmen which he then confidently knocks down. He starts down the wrong path by ignoring the main title of my article, which is, ‘Was Hitler Right?’ and then goes on to distort and misrepresent almost everything (if not indeed everything) that I said in the article.”
Comments/Strategies: You know, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that he used the wrong word here. It doesn’t sound like he was “intrigued” that I had taken the time to respond to his criticisms, it sounds more like he was surprised that I would have the audacity to respond to his criticisms. I'll bet he would have been even more "intrigued" if he had known I was from Alabama. Well, the problem is that many of us poor folk here in Alabama are just too dumb to know our place. We just don’t fit into those better tribes of folk up at Yale and such places.
Martignoni is claiming that I misrepresented his arguments, but I disagree and stand by my characterization. He is simply coyly backing off from the implications of what he wrote and trying to say that I misrepresented him simply because my characterizations were not direct quotes from him.
It is true that Martignoni never said that his was an argument for the existence of God, but it is a necessary premise to his point. He wrote:
“This is why people who do not believe in God cannot offer any objective reason for saying that they themselves have value as human beings. Without God, everything becomes subjective…merely one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion…and the strongest person’s opinon prevails. Without God, might, in essence, makes right. I’ve talked to atheists before and I’ve asked them if what Hitler did to the Jews was wrong. And they answered that of course it was! Then I asked them, why? Why was it wrong for Hitler to kill six million Jews? Essentially, all they could answer me with was, ‘Well, it just was.’”
He is saying that we need belief in God in order for human life to have objective value. It is true that this is not the same as saying that God must exist, but it certainly presupposes God’s existence as a premise. By criticizing me for missing his point, is Martignoni saying that his position does not require the existence of God? Is he saying we should believe in God whether or not he exists? If Martignoni is willing to say that his position is not dependent upon the existence of God nor an argument for his existence, then I will gladly withdraw that specific criticism.
Comments/Strategies: I stand by what I said. He did indeed misrepresent my arguments. Dr. Novella doesn’t know me nor does he know anything about what I think and believe and why I think it and believe it. So, to tell me that I didn’t really mean what I said I meant is, with all due respect, a bit arrogant. My argument is that if there is no God, then we cannot come up with a truly objective valuation of human life. Dr. Novella may consider that a positive argument for God, but I do not. My intent was not to offer “proof” for the existence of God. To infer otherwise is to go beyond the parameters of the argument as I laid it out. Yes, my objective valuation of human beings pre-supposes the existence of God, but so what? All I’m saying is that if I’m wrong, and God does not exist, then human life basically has no objective value. Period. I’m not being coy...anyone who has read my newsletters on a regular basis would know better than to describe me in such a way. I say pretty much exactly what I mean - I don’t try to hide anything between the lines.
“Right off the bat he claims that my article says ‘atheists are evil’ and that I compare them to Hitler. And he quotes two paragraphs from the article, apparently for the purpose of backing up his claims. The problem is, though, there is nothing in either of those two paragraphs which says anything like what he is claiming I said. In fact, if you read the entire article, you will not find a single reference to atheists as being evil or being compared to Hitler. I think the ‘critical thinking skills’ that the New England Skeptical Society needs to improve are those of its founder. Either that, or Dr. Novella is displaying an incredible amount of intellectual dishonesty.
“The only thing that he could possibly be referring to in either of the two paragraphs he quotes is the last sentence where I say, ‘Any other line of reasoning leaves an opening for someone, somewhere, at some point in time, to declare somebody else as having no value…which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Europe 70 years ago.’ All I’m saying is that without an objective standard of value for human beings (the fact that God loving us gives us value - the objective part being that the value is there regardless of what anyone might think or the passage of laws to the contrary), we are left with only subjective valuations for human beings which opens the door to someone declaring that someone else has no value…which is exactly what happened to the Jews. To read these two paragraphs and come away with the interpretation that I say atheists are evil and that I compare them to Hitler is to be totally bereft of ‘critical thinking skills’ or is the result of being influenced by an agenda that wants nothing to do with honest dialogue.
“I challenge Dr. Novella to find a single instance in the entire article where I say atheists are evil or where I even imply that they are evil. And I further challenge him to find a single instance of my comparing atheists to Hitler. The point of the article was to simply explore the question: Was Hitler right? and, if not, why not? I compared no one to Hitler nor did I label anyone as being evil.”
Again, Martignoni is trying to be coy, to distance himself from the clear implications of his article. I was pointing out what he was obviously implying by his arguments. He says that according to atheistic belief humans have no inherent value, and that this philosophy allowed Hitler’s genocide of the Jews to occur. Is a philosophy that allows genocide and murder not evil? Is he saying that atheists are not evil, only their philosophy is (or maybe that atheism is not evil, it just happens to facilitate evil).
Martignoni would have us believe he is not comparing atheists to Hitler, he’s just saying that atheism leads to things like Hitler and his holocaust. Does this not “imply” evil? I will let the reader decide.
Comments/Strategies: Once again, I am not trying to be coy. Being coy is for “girlie men.” Again, I must question the reasoning, or lack thereof, behind his statement about the “clear implications” of my article. I believe his “reasoning” is the result of a defensive bias against those who dare to challenge his religious faith - his faith that there is no God. He wants to believe the worst in those who challenge his faith.
I will state very clearly, so that Dr. Novella will (hopefully) have no doubts as to what I mean, what I think about atheism and atheists. The belief that there is no God is what is referred to in 1st Timothy 4 as a doctrine of demons. It is evil. However, people who hold to this faith in no God - and it is a faith, because no one has any proof that God does not exist, so they believe on faith - are not necessarily evil. Believing in erroneous doctrine does not, in and of itself, make someone evil. Just as believing in correct doctrine does not, in and of itself, make someone holy. So, having a philosophy that is based on a lie, does not automatically make someone evil. Just as having a philosophy that is based on truth does not automatically make one holy. One can be an atheist and still value life just as much as any Christian does. I have never argued otherwise, even though Dr. Novella has me saying as much. My argument is, again, that an atheistic evaluation of the value of human life is, at its core, subjective. While an evaluation of life that is based on the value given to that life by God, is objective. No more, no less.
I believe there are tenets of Islam that are false doctrines - they are lies and they are evil, as any false doctrine is - however, I do not believe that necessarily makes a Muslim evil. I believe that certain tenets of faith held by Baptists, Evangelicals, Presbyterians, etc. are lies and are false doctrines - that they are evil. That does not mean I believe Baptists, Evangelicals, and Presbyterians are evil. I would expect that those who are not Catholic believe that many of our doctrines are lies...are evil...but they don't necessarily believe that Catholics are evil. It doesn't offend me to have someone think that my false (according to them) doctrines are evil. It is logical for them to believe that. If they didn't think these doctrines were lies, then they'd be on their way into the Church. So, believing that someone holds to a doctrine that you consider evil, does not necessarily lead one to believe that the person holding that doctrine is evil. Dr. Novella has spent a lot of time belittling me for an argument that I did not make.
So, I did not say atheists are evil and I did not compare them to Hitler. Dr. Novella owes me an apology for saying that I did. If Dr. Novella continues to insist that I did, then he is believing in and perpetuating a lie. I do not think atheists are inherently evil and I do not compare someone to Hitler just because they are an atheist - either directly or indirectly. Again, I challenge Dr. Novella to find a single instance where I say that or even imply it. And, I never said atheism “allows” murder or genocide. What I said is that a subjective valuation of human life leaves the door open to such things. If Dr. Novella wishes to react defensively to that and accuse me of calling all atheists evil, well, I suppose that is his God-given right to do so. However, I believe Dr. Novella actually agrees with my main point, else why is he arguing that the philosophy of humanism does indeed allow for an objective valuation of human life? In other words, he agrees with my argument that a subjective valuation of human life is a bad thing. What he is really arguing against is my contention that atheism cannot result in an objective valuation of life. But, he unfortunately does so by distorting and misrepresenting my arguments. And, his distortions have led to folks on a number of atheist websites who have "blind faith" in what Dr. Novella says and who just accept what he says without question and who have blind faith that there is no God, into saying things about me that are not all that nice. So much for the principle of reciprocity, eh?
“With all due respect to Dr. Novella, but these two paragraphs made me want to laugh. In the first one he states that I ignore a ‘vast tradition of humanist philosophy and secular law’ and then goes on to say that, ‘We can arrive at that conclusion [that human life has value] by careful and systematic thought.’ But, when you look at the next paragraph, what do we find is the end result of this ‘vast tradition of humanist philosophy’ and of the ‘careful and systematic thought’ of humanists? Basically it’s this: ‘I want to save my ass [please excuse the French] so I’m going to agree not to kill you if you agree not to kill me.’ Gee, that’s a completely objective standard, don’t you think? How could I have ever ignored a vast tradition of humanist thought that gives us such a noble and selfless philosophy as that? Shame on me.
“Furthermore, Dr. Novella makes my argument for me. Placing value on another person’s life in the hope that they will reciprocate and thus place value on your life, is an inherently subjective means of valuing human life. I will value you, if and only if you value me. It is not a case of recognizing a human being’s inherent value and thus not killing them. It is simply: I’ll value you and won’t try to kill you, if you value me and don’t try to kill me. A social contract. Where is the objective standard in that? We have value insofar as we participate in this social contract which will hopefully save our hide from extinction.”
It is clear that Martignoni does not even realize that he is denigrating and dismissing the entire philosophical construct of ethics. Ethics theory is based upon recognizing first principles - these are starting points that are as objective as humans can get. They are objective in that they represent near universal human feelings and beliefs. Ethical philosophy then proceeds carefully from these starting points to work out a system of human behavior that reasonably informs the complex interactions of human civilization. Martignoni ignorantly dismisses this as “subjective opinion.”
Comments/Strategies: Gee, I guess I didn't realize that I was denigrating and dismissing the entire philosophical construct of ethics. I just thought I was denigrating and dismissing the philosophical construct that has the principle of mutually-assured destruction as its core principle. Think about it. According to Dr. Novella’s “nutshell” description of the vast tradition of humanist philosophy, the core principle is: Don’t shoot me and I won’t shoot you. Or, to rephrase that positively, it becomes: If you kill me, someone will kill you. In other words, mutually-assured destruction is the core principle, as presented by Dr. Novella, to his vast humanist tradition of philosophy.
In the vast tradition of Christian philosophy, we are told that to give your life for another is the greatest act of love. In the vast tradition of humanist philosophy, we are apparently told that not to kill the other guy is the greatest act of love (of self) - because if you don't kill the other guy, then you, in turn, won't be killed. One tradition is based on being unselfish to the point of giving all for another, while the other tradition, based on what Dr. Novella has said, is based on the selfish act of not killing another so that your life will hopefully be spared. I would simply ask, is mutually-assured destruction (MAD) the principle you want at the core of your entire philosophical construct? And, is that an inherently objective principle? Dr. Novella has done nothing, outside of trying to belittle me personally, to prove that “don’t shoot me and I won’t shoot you” is an objective way to place value on human life.
He is also acting as if my quickie blog entry summary of this (which I acknowledged was just the “nutshell”) is the sum total of humanist and ethical philosophy. Please. He also ignored the second half of my basic argument - that most people actually inherently value human life because they care about other people. We are not just brutal animals, absent belief in God. Humans are certainly capable of brutality (with or without religion) and that is why we need ethics and laws. But most people want to think of themselves as being good people, and we have genuine empathy and remorse. This is part of being human.
Comments/Strategies: Dr. Novella complains because I simply respond to his argument as he framed it. He gave a “nutshell” argument, so I gave a “nutshell” response and he tries to belittle me for it. Regarding the second half of his argument, I did indeed ignore it because I viewed it as irrelevant to the argument I was making. But, I shall address it here. He is wrong when he says that “Most people actually inherently value human life.” First of all, valuing human life is a learned behavior, it is not “inherent” to the human being. Selfishness is inherent to the human being...just ask the parents of any 2-yr. old. Quite often people can learn to be indifferent to human life much more easily than they can learn to care for human life.
Secondly, Dr. Novella has already admitted that a great number of people value the lives of those in their immediate family, or “tribe,” but if you go outside of the tribe, the value of life quite frequently diminishes. This is the tribalism that Dr. Novella claims is "hardwired" into us. In other words, Dr. Novella claims in one place that humans are inherently tribalistic (caring about some lives but not others), but here he claims that humans inherently value all life. Which is it, Doctor, are we tribalistic or not?
Do Serbs value other Serbs lives? Without a doubt. Did they value the lives of the Bosnians? Many did not. Did people all over the world respond with care and compassion to the tsunami victims? Absolutely. Did many Palestinians (and others) dance in the streets when the Trade Towers came down? Indeed they did. And, this is obviously the experience throughout the history of man. 2000 years ago Jesus asked, “Do you only love those who love you? What value is there in that? Even the Gentiles do as much.” If you only love those who love you...if you only value those who value you...where is the objectivity in that?
Jesus goes on to say that we must love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Not for selfish reasons. Not because we hope by doing that for them they will do the same for us. It is for unselfish reasons, so that by loving and praying for them, especially when they hate and persecute us, we may be instruments for their salvation. It is not based upon the principle of doing this for you so that you'll do it for me. Which, apparently, is the core principle of the vast tradition of humanist philosophy. It is based upon doing this for you because you are valuable in God's eyes and in my eyes. Doing this for you freely, without reservation, without conditions, expecting nothing in return...because you have value whether or not you think I have value.
Dr. Novella goes on to say that, “We are not just brutal animals, absent belief in God.” Well, I didn’t say we are "brutal" animals, did I? But, I did say that absent God, we are just animals. Does he deny that? And, if Dr. Novella is true to Darwinism, then one of the prime driving forces of nature is survival of the fittest. To be truly Darwinian would mean to advocate the “culling of the herd” in order to remove unfit elements from the race - keep defective genes from being passed on - and insure the survival of the fittest...the survival of the species. Eugenicism. Margaret Sanger was a big proponent of removing “human weeds” from the population. It is eugenicist philosophy that motivated much of what Hitler did. But, how can that be immoral, if it is “hardwired” into us?
In other words, to believe in Darwinism, is to believe in the necessity of brutality from time-to-time, is it not? Isn’t one lion killing the cubs of another lion a brutal thing? Yes, but from a Darwinist perspective, is it immoral for one lion to kill another lion's cubs? How can it be immoral if it is "hardwired" into them? Just so with the human animal. Is survival of the fittest, something which is "hardwired" into us, an immoral concept? How can it be, if we are but higher animals and nothing more? If tribalism is "hardwired" into us, as Dr. Novella claims, then, as simply higher animals, tribalism (valuing those in your tribe but not those in the other tribe) cannot be immoral.
Hitler decided the Aryans were more fit than the Jews. Survival of the fittest. How is it that the natural order of things that Darwinism (and Dr. Novella) says is “hardwired” in us by nature, is somehow immoral in Dr. Novella’s vast tradition of humanist philosophy, if humanist philosophy is based on the natural order of things? In nature, are not the strong supposed to rule over and sometimes even kill the weak? So, it seems that Dr. Novella’s humanist philosophy is not really based on the natural order of things, at least, according to Darwinism. So, what is it based on? Well, again, it’s based upon the construct of mutually-assured destruction - if you kill me, then someone will kill you. Objective or subjective?
While Martignoni wrongly dismisses this as “subjective” he would put in its place a personal faith, stating that this is “objective.” He has this reversed - faith is a personal choice. Martignoni cannot objectively prove the existence of God nor the will of God. He has only his faith upon which to base any such pronouncements. He would likely say that this faith is based upon the bible or revelation - but there is no proof that the bible is the objective word of God. Again, he must have faith that it is so.
Comments/Strategies: Again, he brings up irrelevant arguments. Yes, faith is a personal choice. He has faith that there is no God, I have faith that there is a God. Those are our respective personal choices. I cannot objectively “prove” the existence of God to Dr. Novella, I can only present arguments for it. I do, however, have more evidence that the Bible is the objective word of God, then Dr. Novella has that it isn’t. But, again, none of that is relevant to the argument I make, which is: If there is a God, and He did indeed create us and gave us our lives and our rights, and He loves us as His children, then that is indeed the basis for an objective valuation of each and every human being. Conversely, if there is no God, then there is ultimately no basis for anything but a subjective valuation of human life.
As an example of this muddied thinking, Martignoni goes on to write:
“He makes several statements in these two paragraphs that are, with all due respect to Dr. Novella, merely his subjective opinion - they are not based on facts or on history or on lived human experience. One such statement: ‘Therefore it is in everyone’s self interest to have a civilization with rules and for those rules to protect the individual’s right not to be killed.’ Is it? Says who? That is an opinion, not a fact born out by history and human experience.”
So Martignoni is saying that, if I do not want to be killed, it is NOT in my self-interest for there to be rules that protect my right not be killed? I think that Martgnoni confuses simple logic for subjective opinion - or more likely he is simply using this catch-all to dismiss any argument he finds inconvenient, as he specifically counsels his readers to do.
Comments/Strategies: Again, he puts words in my mouth. I’m not saying it’s not in Dr. Novella’s self-interest for there to be rules that protect his desire not to be killed. I am making the point that all of his vast tradition of humanist philosophy is indeed based upon self-interest. The fact that Dr. Novella says his "right" not to be killed is based on his desire not to be killed is my point. His "rights," as he sees them, emanate from his desires. They do not come from outside of him, they come from him. Is it objective to endow yourself with rights based on your desires? Most people desire to be wealthy...does that mean they have the "right" to be wealthy? What if someone - a Hitler, a Stalin, a Mao, a Genghis Khan, a bin Laden - desires power, domination, wealth, sexual conquest, etc. more than they desire not to be killed? Does that give them the "right" to such things? What if your desire not to be killed at some point causes you to not value someone else’s life so that you can remove them as a potential threat to your desire not to be killed? Then their life no longer has value. In other words, their value is not inherent to them, it emanates from your desires. And, what if the principle of reciprocity (mutually-assured destruction) doesn't hold in a situation because you are eminently stronger than someone and are armed and they are not and you perceive no threats to your life. What happens to the value equation then?
“He also mentions ‘secular law,’ but fails to point out that our secular law traditions are based, not on secular humanist values, but on Judeo-Christian values and mores. Has he ever heard of the Ten Commandments? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness (purgery, liable, slander). Thou shalt not commit adultery (which used to be illegal). Thou shalt keep holy the Lord’s Day (ever heard of blue laws?). The Ten Commandments were foundational in the development of the legal system of the Western world, and many of the other principles of justice found in the Pentateuch are incorporated into our laws. Also, is he not aware that the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of our country, just happens to mention a Creator Who endows us with our unalienable rights?”
Martignoni apparently did not read Part II of my criticisms where I address these issues.
Comments/Strategies: I will respond to this and to Part II of his criticisms in a future issue.
Martignoni goes on:
“Was it in Hitler’s self interest to value the Jews lives, or was it in his self interest to devalue the Jews lives? One of the reasons Hitler rose to power was his scapegoating of the Jews for all of the woes of Germany in the 20’s and early 30’s. In other words, it was indeed in his self interest to devalue their lives and eventually kill six million of them. It was in Stalin’s self interest to allow 10-20 million Ukrainians to starve to death in the 1920’s. The Ukrainians were resisting Stalin’s plan of agriculture collectives, so it was in his self interest to let millions of them starve so that he could implement his plans and consolidate his power. It was in Mao Tse Tung’s self interest to have 30-40 million of his countrymen killed in order to consolidate his power. It was in Pol Pot’s self interest to slaughter 2 million or so of his countrymen to consolidate his power. In today’s world, it is in Al Qaeda’s self interest to kill and maim and to cause as much anarchy as possible within Iraq and elsewhere. Killing serves their self interest.
“In other words, the reasoning developed by Dr. Novella’s vast tradition of humanist philosophy has a huge flaw in it. There are many instances throughout history, throughout human experience, and even in today’s society, where devaluing someone else’s life is indeed in a person’s self interest. One other quick example: abortion. It is in the self interest of the women wanting abortions, and the people making money from the abortions, to devalue the life of the unborn human being.”
The error in Martignoni’s logic is that he is assuming if someone has one interest they cannot have others. One of the complexities of ethics philosophy is that people can have different interests at the same time that are in conflict, and therefore we must develop ways of resolving and balancing such conflicts. It is an ethical principle that we should not lie or “bear false witness,” but what if you are hiding Jews in your basement and the SS comes by to ask you some questions. Should you bear false witness against them in order to save the innocent lives of the people in your protection?
But more to Martignoni’s point, the examples he gives are of people who decided to act on their more immediate self-interest above the more abstract self-interest of reciprocity. You have to be able to think ahead to the consequences of your actions in order to realize that killing others ultimately is a bad idea. Martignoni uses Hitler as an example - how did his genocidal rampage work out for him? I believe he killed himself in a bunker, his nation in ruins, soon to be divided by his enemies. He says that killing serves Al Qaida’s interests - really? Is the US war against Al Qaida really in their self interest? At the very least that is a debatable proposition.
But even if killing is in someone’s self-interest, the whole point is that it comes at a tremendous price - the devaluing of human life. We don’t need God to tell us that this hurts everyone.
Comments/Strategies: Actually, there is no error in my logic here, because I do not assume that a person cannot have more than one interest. Dr. Novella again has to make up something about my arguments, because he can’t seem to handle my actual arguments head on, as in this case where he talks all around my argument, but never really answers it. Dr. Novella, again, is missing the point that my argument here is based on the fact that valuing human life based on one’s self-interest can lead to situations where one’s self-interest puts zero value on human life. He offers no dispute against that. He talks about one of the “complexities of ethics philosophy” being that people can have conflicting interests. So what? What if someone’s overriding self-interest is to obtain power over others and that conflicts with someone else’s self-interest? And, what if the guy who wants power just happens to have the gun? What if someone is a good student of Darwin and believes in survival of the fittest and doesn’t believe Jews are very fit? Or blacks? Or Gypsies? Or (fill in the blank)? Again, he seems to not be able to make an argument regarding what happens to his valuation system when it is indeed in someone’s self-interest to de-value others’ lives.
He says that we have “to be able to think ahead to the consequences of our actions in order to realize that killing others is ultimately a bad idea.” Well, what if someone can’t foresee that conquering Europe will ultimately lead to their violent death? And, what if they can foresee it, but don’t care? What if someone thinks that being the ultimate power in Europe for several years is worth the chance that they will die a violent death? Where does that leave Dr. Novella’s self-interest based system of ethics, when self-interest leads someone to de-value the lives of others? My argument is, again, that a self-interest based system for valuing the lives of others is entirely subjective.
Plus, he uses Hitler as an example, but what about Stalin? How was killing others a bad idea for him? He lived in luxury; he had whatever he wanted when he wanted it; he ruled over hundreds of millions of people. He lived to be 75. What about Mao? Same thing. He got pretty much whatever he wanted and he lived to be 82, dying a natural death. What about Genghis Khan? He had one of the largest empires in history. He lived to be 65...a long life by the standards of the time. An argument can be made that by killing others, he extended his life by a number of years. In other words, it was indeed in his self-interest to kill others...even taking into account the abstract principle of mutually-assured destruction. (Oops...I mean the abstract principle of “reciprocity.”)
Dr. Novella goes on to say that whether or not killing serves Al Qaeda’s interest is a “debatable proposition.” In other words, we don’t know how things are going to turn out in the long run for Al Qaeda. Which highlights another huge flaw in Dr. Novella’s vast tradition of humanist philosophy. One must essentially be able to accurately predict human events for many years to come in order to accurately assess whether killing someone else is really in one’s self-interest or not. Another flaw is that one must assume that not being killed is actually the overriding factor that someone takes into account when determining how to best act in their self-interest. There are apparently a lot of folks out there - past and present - who seem more than willing to let “not being killed” take a backseat to other self-interests (ever heard of suicide bombers?). Which causes major problems for Dr. Novella’s vast tradition of humanist philosophy.
Dr. Novella then says: “But even if killing is in someone’s self-interest, the whole point is that it comes at a tremendous price - the devaluing of human life. We don’t need God to tell us that this hurts everyone."
This is another instance of where I just had to laugh at what he says. He makes my argument for me. A value system based on self-interests can, and does, lead to the de-valuing of human life. Thank you, Dr. Novella, for agreeing with me on that. If you had just said this in the beginning, we could have avoided a lot of time and effort on all of this. I hope all of you Dr. Novella fans reading this realize that he has agreed with the basic premise of my "Was Hitler Right?" article; although, I doubt he realizes he has done so. And, no, we don’t need God to tell us this is the case, but we do need God to actually have an objective valuation of human life.
Plus, did you notice the example that Dr. Novella didn't touch? Abortion! Again, I'll bet, even though he says killing in one's self-interest (as in abortion) devalues all human life...I'll bet he believes abortion is perfectly okay. Most atheists I've come across (not all) have absolutely no problem with abortion. What say ye about abortion, Dr. Novella? Are you against it, or are you a hypocrite when it comes to this particular issue? How does a mom hiring a doctor to kill her unborn baby fit into your vast tradition of humanist philosophy?
Beating his dead horse, Martignoni writes:
“Plus, where does the ‘sound reasoning’ produced by the vast tradition of humanist philosophy regarding the valuation of life lead us in regard to the value of human life vs., let’s say, the value of worm life? Does a worm not have a right to life that is equal to a human being’s? If not, why not? Worms, as far as I know, don’t kill each other, so it is entirely possible that they have all concluded a social contract not to kill each other, and therefore their right to life should be respected as being equal to ours. Besides, according to Darwin, there is no inherent value anywhere on the spectrum of life…we’re all just chemical and biological accidents. How can anyone who believes life is simply a cosmic accident, then turn around and say life has inherent value? Do accidents have inherent value?
"And, this is not the ‘intellectual equivalent sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “Na na na na na, I can’t hear you.”’ Dr. Novella is either ignoring, or is ignorant of, a vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy that spans thousands of years and upon which I am basing my claim. I have listened to the thoughts on the value of human life generated by the vast tradition of humanist philosophy and have, through sound reasoning and logic, realized that they boil down to: 1) Well, we just do; 2) In order to save my tail I have to value the other’s guy tail; 3) We all have the will to live, therefore, that gives us value. And that’s pretty much it, as evidenced by Dr. Novella’s own comments. So, based on sound reasoning, and on thousands of years of the vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy, I can confidently say that if God does not exist, any reason you give me for why I shouldn’t shoot you, is not an objective moral standard…it is indeed merely your opinion (regardless of whatever reasoning your opinion may be based on)…which I am free to reject if I so choose."
Darwin does not say that life has no value. The theory of evolution is an attempt to factually explain nature; it is value neutral. Nor should we derive our values from nature. Nature is what it is, and it is a mistake to conclude that (within the atheist paradigm) it must give us our values. We can decide as a people that certain values are reasonable, beneficial, just, and good. Accepting the fact of evolution does not preclude ethics.
Martignoni cites the vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy - and, to be clear, I am not denigrating this for what value it contains. There is much that is good in Juedo-Christian philosophy, particularly the Christian traditions of loving thy neighbor and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us (uh, isn’t that the essence of reciprocity?). The religions of the world collectively contain a great deal of wisdom about how humans should, and should not, behave, and modern philosophies of law and ethics derive a great deal from this wisdom. Perhaps it would be surprising for Martignoni to read this, but I am not denying nor ignoring the religious traditions of humanity.
Rather I am putting them into perspective. Religious morals were attempts by groups of people to codify their laws and their understanding of ethics. It is not surprising that they expressed their wisdom in the context of their religious belief, partly because it does lend much greater weight to them. A priest would likely have a better reaction if, rather than saying, “I think you should behave this way,” he said, “God commands it.”
Comments/Strategies: Dr. Novella claims above that we should not “derive our values from nature.” But, didn’t he previously say that his vast tradition of humanist philosophy is based on the fundamental principle that our desire to live is inherent in us from nature? So, on the one hand, we are to base our system of ethics on the natural order, but on the other hand we are not to base our system of ethics on the natural order. Now I’m really confused. He also says nature is value neutral, but if all we are as human beings is simply one animal up on the evolutionary chain, then how is it we can do anything that is not derived from nature, if nature is all there is? If there is no God; if there is no soul; if there is no truth beyond what we can observe in nature; then if nature is value neutral, anything that human beings do as a result of our nature (like being tribalistic) is also value neutral. Dr. Novella seems to want the results of having a God, without really having a God.
He also says here that there is much that is good in Judeo-Christian philosophy, but in his first set of comments, he talked about how what I believe as a Christian is the result of blind faith and the setting aside of logic, reason, and even common sense. How can we get anything good from a philosophical system that puts blind faith ahead of logic, reason, and common sense? Again, with all due respect, but Dr. Novella seems to once more be talking out of both sides of his mouth. He goes on to compare the Christian tradition of loving your neighbor and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you (the Golden Rule) to the “essence of reciprocity.” Sorry, Dr. Novella, don’t think so. As I mentioned earlier, the essence of reciprocity is mutually-assured destruction - if you kill me, someone will kill you. The essence of reciprocity expects something in return for the giver. The essence of reciprocity is selfishness. The essence of the Golden Rule is selflessness. The essence of the Golden Rule is that you should do for others without expecting anything in return. The essence of the Golden Rule is that you should be willing to die for others whether they would be willing to die for you or not. Reciprocity = Golden Rule? Don't think so!
Dr. Novella inherently recognizes the nobility and selflessness of Christian tradition, and tries, albeit in vain, to tie his vast tradition of humanist philosophy to this tradition. But, fails miserably in doing so. When you get down to the core principles, the vast tradition of Christian philosophy and the vast tradition of humanist philosophy are poles apart.
His contention that people in essence made up God in order to give more authority to their understanding of humanist ethics is based on what? An assumption that there is no God. In other words, it is based on faith, not fact. Plus, the fact that the humanist tradition and the Christian tradition are actually far apart in their core principles puts the lie to his argument that religion is merely a dressing up of humanism.
The problem today is that we live in an open and diverse society, containing people of many faiths (or lack thereof) and we all have to live together. Also, for all the good morality that developed within religious tradition, there is a lot of baggage that is either superstitious or counterproductive. Many religions proscribe certain eating habits, or devalue women, for example. In the old testament God had a nasty habit of ordering every man, woman, child, and animal in an enemy city be killed. Exactly what ethic would Martignoni have us derive from that?
But the big problem with basing morality on faith is that it is rigid - it locks us into the messy conclusions that our primitive and superstitious ancestors came up with. Rather I am advocating that we take the best of their wisdom, and then combine that with the best of modern philosophy and ethics. We retain the ability to think, and not just rest upon authority. We can base our ethics on what makes sense, not on what some self-appointed authority says.
Martignoni is endlessly worried that, without faith in God, there is no objectivity to ethics. It is true, that within atheistic philosophy there is no ultimate cosmic authority. We humans are left to our own devices. But since no one can prove that they have direct access to the ultimate cosmic authority (and everyone else who claims that they do is wrong) perhaps we should go with the answers that make the most sense, and allow everyone to participate in the discussion.
Comments/Strategies: The mistake that Dr. Novella keeps making, is that he keeps insisting that the Christian faith is contrary to reason. He basically believes faith and reason cannot coexist. Yet, he believes himself to be a man of reason, while all the while having faith that God does not exist. He has no proof that God does not exist, only faith in such. So, again, we see the double standard - reason can accompany faith in the atheist/humanist tradition, but not in the Christian tradition. The Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Christian faith, is a faith that relies and builds upon common sense, logic, and reason...regardless of what Dr. Novella might think and say. (I wonder if Dr. Novella realizes who founded all the great universities of Medieval Europe?)
Dr. Novella makes another nonsensical statement when he says that morality based on faith is rigid. Well, what about morality based on truth, Dr. Novella? If truth is unchanging, then the morality that is based on that truth should be unchanging, or rigid, should it not? Now, you can argue with us as to exactly what the truth is, but do not say a morality based on unchanging truths should be "flexible." That is ridiculous on the face of it. Plus, a lot of morality in the Catholic tradition is based on the natural law. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? For instance, we can see that nature designed men to have sexual relations with women, and not with other men. So, we can, based upon the natural law, determine that homosexual relations are contrary to the good of man, can we not? Would you dispute that, Dr. Novella? If so, based on what principles?
Also, by saying that morality based on faith is “rigid,” he is, once again, in effect agreeing with me. He’s saying morality should be flexible. Or, rather, it should be situational. In other words, it has to be subjective. If morality should not be rigid, then how can Dr. Novella have a morality that states that all human life has value? Isn’t that a bit rigid? Again, Dr. Novella is saying different things at different times - but, I guess that it's moral to do so in his non-rigid system of morality. And, I am not “endlessly worried” that without a God there is no objectivity to ethics. All I’ve said is that without a God, all valuations of human life are subjective at their core. The more Dr. Novella talks, the more he makes that point for me. Regarding his point about allowing everyone into the discussion, doesn’t he really mean allowing everyone who agrees with him into the discussion?
When Dr. Novella states the following: "We can base our ethics on what makes sense, not on what some self-appointed authority says," do you know what he is really saying? He's saying that he wants to be able to impose his belief systems on society, but he doesn't want anyone else to be able to do so. Think about it. Who decides what "makes sense" and what doesn't make sense in regards to ethics? Why, Dr. Novella does of course. Does adultery make sense? Does abortion? Does cloning? Does homosexual marriage? We know, of course, that Christians are unable to make sense, so they're left out of the decision-making process, right? In other words, he's appointed himself an authority on this matter, yet he rails against self-appointed authority.
In response to this from my first post:
It is no surprise, therefore, that his solution is to surrender all reasoning to blind faith. While he falsely accuses, based upon a fallacious straw man argument, that the “atheist” defense of life is thin, his faith-based defense is downright vaporous. First, he assumes that God-based value is objective, but it isn’t. It is based upon authority, and not the authority of God as Martignoni and other apologists would argue, but on the authority of some person who is self-appointed to interpret the will of God. Martignoni’s approach leads inexorably to the setting aside of logic, reason, even basic common sense and submitting oneself blindly to the authority of a priesthood.
John Martignoni wrote:
“Whoops! I think Dr. Novella is letting a little of his bias and bigotry show! This is a sample of what passes as ‘sound reasoning’ in the vast tradition of humanist philosophy? If Dr. Novella thinks my faith is a ‘blind faith’ that ‘leads inexorably to the setting aside of logic, reason, even basic common sense,’ then I can say with certainty he has never read Augustine or Aquinas or Justin Martyr or Fulton Sheen or Cardinal Newman or pretty much any other Catholic writer. Is his ignorance, bias, and bigotry, all of which are clearly on display here, the product of the vast tradition of humanist thought of which he speaks?
“The fact of the matter is, if there is a God, and we were created by that God, and that God loves us and gives us certain ‘unalienable rights,’ and thereby gives us value because of His love for us - that is indeed an objective valuation of human life. In that instance, human life has value that does not depend on another human being. It has inherent value. It does not have value because it is wanted. It does not have value as part of some social contract based on each individual’s desire for self-preservation. It has value because it is, period.”
Whoops, indeed. Although irrelevant, it might interest Martignoni to know that I was raised in the Jesuit Catholic tradition and was schooled in the best Catholic writers. He accuses me of “ignorance, bias, and bigotry” but does not justify these personal attacks in any way. He did not counter my point at all - faith-based answers are based upon authority, as they must be, because no one can prove that God exists and that he talks to them. Authority is the necessary enemy of reason, because authority, by definition, trumps reason. (To be clear, authority may be correct in any given instance but the point is that you cannot use reason again authority, you are supposed to just acquiesce to it.)
The “if” in the second paragraph is, as they say, a very big “if.” If Martignoni could prove God’s existence and his will in such a way that faith was no longer required, God’s existence would be established fact - then he would have a point. But he just has his faith in God, and the principle of freedom of religion says that he cannot impose his faith on others. So, is he saying that he should be able to impose his faith upon others? Oh, wait. I almost forgot. He is saying that atheists should have no rights (which is imposing his faith upon others). That is the conclusion his Judeo-Christian tradition leads him to.
The bottom line is that you cannot base your “objective” conclusions on an “if” in which you must have faith.
Comments/Strategies: Please note that this last sentence comes from a man who has a tremendous amount of faith that God does not exist, and bases most, if not all, of his reasoning on that faith. Again, a double standard. The fact that he was raised in the Jesuit tradition helps me to understand why he is an atheist. But, he doesn’t answer my point. He is very clearly implying that there is a dichotomy between “faith-based answers” and reason-based answers. In other words, faith and reason have nothing to do with each other. Yet, if he has read Augustine, Aquinas, Justin Martyr, Newman, Sheen, and others, then he should know that their faith, our Catholic faith, is not devoid of reason. Again, it is based on reason, on logic, and on common sense. Does faith go beyond where pure reason can take you? Absolutely. But does that make faith unreasonable or contrary to reason, as Dr. Novella seems to think? Absolutely not.
And, if he has read all of these Catholic writers, yet he purposes a false dichotomy between faith and reason, then I will admit that he is not ignorant, he must be either biased or bigoted or both. If he would care to offer another explanation, I am open to hearing it. Regarding basing all that I believe on blind faith in authority, again, I say read Augustine, Aquinas, and the rest. That simply is not the case. To say otherwise is, in my humble opinion, biased and bigoted. And, again, if “faith-based answers” are necessarily void of reason, logic, and common sense, then how do we draw anything worthwhile from the vast tradition of Judeo-Christian philosophy? Yet, he said earlier that we could.
Regarding his contention that I said atheists should have no rights, again, this is where I think the critical thinking skills goal of his New England Skeptical Society might need to be re-visited. Apparently, Dr. Novella is not aware of a literary device known as hyperbole. If he really thinks I am advocating that atheists should have no rights, then I feel sorry for him. I believe I think more highly of atheists, than he does of Christians.
“Dr. Novella’s statement that ‘sectarian religions are decidedly counterproductive’ in the endeavor to ‘transcend our tribalism,’ is patently absurd on the face of it and displays either gross ignorance or stupendous idiocy. There are more than one billion Catholics on the face of this earth. They are from every race, every nation, every color, every tongue, every tribe. Our Catholic Faith helps us to transcend our differences. It has helped me to see Africans, Asians, South Americans, Europeans, Australians, and North Americans as all part of my ‘tribe.’ That is counterproductive to overcoming tribalism?
“If he reads the history of Islam, it served to unite the many and varied Arab tribes and today includes people of most, if not all, races, nations, colors, tongues, and tribes. Now, I personally may disagree with the tenets of Islam, but I cannot deny that it unites its adherents across tribal, national, and cultural barriers. Religion unites billions of people across borders, across races, across languages, across tribes, in a way that nothing else does. To say otherwise is to either ignore the facts or, again, to be bereft of critical thinking skills.
“Do religious differences still result in problems? Absolutely. But, if we didn’t have our religions uniting us to the degree that they do, how much worse off would we be?”
Martignoni’s point seems to be that religion historically has served to unite people, and without it our tribal problems would be all the greater. He selectively gives us evidence for this contention, and strongly downplays the counter evidence. First, I acknowledge that the history of religion in human civilization is a complex one, and is decidedly mixed in terms of good and bad. I did not mean to imply that religion is all bad all the time. But one does not have to look far for examples of religious faith fueling tribal differences, resulting in violence and atrocities greatly magnified by the faith of all sides. In Iraq we have civil war inflamed specifically by sectarian differences. The history of Christianity has many examples also: the crusades, the inquisition, the genocide of the native Americans, and the many Protestant-Catholic wars.
Again, to be absolutely clear (lest Martignoni further distorts my points) humans do not require religion to make tribal warfare. We are happy to make war for territory, resources, race, nationalism, or economic ideology. And I acknowledge that faiths can cut across other lines that divide humans (as can other human traditions). But faith can also cause and inflame tribal conflict. Faith is not a panacea for human violence. And let me return to my original point - Martignoni was arguing that the absence of faith is the source of human violence and killing. My point was that this is not true (faith, at best, is a mixed proposition), but rather it is the absence of reason.
Logical arguments and reason have the virtue of being able to cut across all tribal divisions, without imposing upon anyone’s faith. We can all agree as a species, based upon reason, that we shouldn’t kill each other. No faith can achieve this without first wiping out or subjugating all other faiths.
Comments/Strategies: My point is exactly what I said it was, that Dr. Novella’s statement regarding “sectarian religions being decidedly counterproductive” in the endeavor to “transcend our tribalism,” is a ridiculous one. I think Dr. Novella recognized that I was right in what I said and he appears to be backtracking a bit here, at least initially. I think he might sometimes say things without actually thinking them through (in other words, he doesn’t always “reason” through what he says). As I stated, my “sectarian religion” helps me and a billion other Catholics to transcend our “tribalism.” The Islamic faith helps a billion folks transcend their “tribalism.” Does sectarian religion do this in a perfect manner? No. I never claimed as much. But, I do claim that a religion that teaches we (Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, black and white, rich and poor) are all one in Christ, is a religion that inherently helps human beings in overcoming “tribalism.”
Dr. Novella again argues against an argument of his own creation, not mine, when he claims that I argued “that the absence of faith is the source of human violence and killing.” I never said such a thing nor did I ever imply such a thing nor do I believe such a thing. For the umpteenth time, all I said is that absent a God Who gives inherent value to every human being, we are left with nothing but subjective means for determining the value of human beings. Dr. Novella has said nothing to prove me wrong. In fact, everything he has said about his vast tradition of humanist philosophy fits perfectly with my line of argumentation and serves to reinforce my arguments. I agree with Dr. Novella that the absence of reason, even if one has faith, can be a source of “human violence and killing.” However, I would also say that reason, absent true faith, can also be a source of “human violence and killing.” Just look at Communism. They used reason - economic reasoning, philosophical reasoning, Hegelian reasoning, historical reasoning, and so on - to champion their cause. A cause which has proven to be one of the greatest lies in human history and which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people.
Sorry, but it is his opinion that we can all agree, “based upon reason,” not to kill one another. What reason does a died-in-the-wool Darwinist (one who believes in survival of the fittest) have for agreeing, in principle, that we shouldn’t kill one another? What reason does a eugenicist have for agreeing, in principle, that we shouldn’t kill one another? What reason would Stalin have had for agreeing not to kill anyone? Again, I argue that a standard of conduct that is ultimately based upon self-interest, is not a standard of conduct that will always and everywhere agree that all human beings have inherent value. Once more I point to the abortion industry. It is in the mothers’ self-interest and in the abortionists’ self-interest to assign a value of zero to the life of the baby they are about to kill. Once again I would ask Dr. Novella how that is reconciled within the vast tradition of humanist philosophy? Is abortion moral, or not?
One more statement of Dr. Novella’s that caused me to chuckle: “No faith can achieve this [getting all men to agree not to kill each other] without first wiping out or subjugating all other faiths.” But, Dr. Novella, no line of reasoning can achieve that either without first wiping out or subjugating all other lines of reasoning, can it? You see the language he tries to paint religion with? The language of violence. No, there's no bias there. But, Dr. Novella, what if that faith that wipes out and subjugates all others is spread using reasoned argumentation and the witness of history? Again, I think Dr. Novella is showing a bias and a prejudice against faith that causes him to say some not-so-well-reasoned things.
“Dr. Novella, because of his prejudices, draws a false dichotomy between faith and reason…even though faith underlies much of what he believes. I reject that false dichotomy. I believe we need both faith and reason. And, finally, I do not condemn those without faith, in the same manner that Dr. Novella condemns those with faith.”
Martignoni has not established that I have any prejudices. I have also not drawn a false dichotomy between faith and reason. My well-documented position is that reason is agnostic toward faith, and all that is required of faith is that it not impose itself upon reason.
Further, I do not think that Martignoni has made his primary case that we need faith, or specifically that we need it in order to arrive at the conclusion that we probably shouldn’t wantonly kill each other. I certainly have arrived at that conclusion, along with many other ethical principles, without faith. Every single person I know personally who does not have faith also has a reasonable moral and ethical outlook, and behaves themselves as good citizens. Of course, there are people with and without faith who are bad and commit crimes.
Martignoni has not established (despite his Hitler example) that atheists are immoral. The evidence is against him on this. Millions of Americans are both non-believers and good citizens. And if we need faith to be moral, doesn’t that predict that those without faith will be immoral. Does Martignoni think we are all closet believers, that we are all concealing our immorality, that we are in fact immoral, or something else?
Martignoni accuses me of condemning those with faith, but I never have. I am simply pointing out that faith is not necessary for ethics and good behavior. I do condemn those who would impose their faith on others, and I do argue that it is a mistake to subjugate science or reason to faith (that gets back to the problem of putting authority over reason).
But I found it astounding that Martignoni would dare to say that he did not condemn those without faith. I will end with his own words:
“So, I advocate that those who wish to take God out of our schools, out of our legal system, out of the public square, should be given their wish. After all, if choice is one of their gods, and it is, then let’s give them their choice. When it comes to atheists, every one needs to act as if God doesn’t exist. As a result, they should have no rights under our system of law, after all, there is no Creator to endow them with those rights. So, I say we should throw them all in jail (without a trial, of course); or perhaps make them work for the public good at minimum wage for their entire lives; or maybe make them work as pooper scoopers in the public parks where folks walk their dogs; or some such thing.
“And, furthermore, I say they should have no access to legal counsel nor to our court system nor to any other means of legal redress. After all, the legal system is founded on the belief in a Creator who endows us with our unalienable rights. They don’t believe in that Creator, so why should they be upset to not have access to a legal system founded on such a belief?”
Comments/Strategies: Even folks who are in Dr. Novella's corner have commented on his blog that they can tell I was writing those words "tongue-in-cheek." The fact that Dr. Novella cannot see that leads me to question his ability to reason, yet reason is what he claims to be all about.
No, I haven’t proven that Dr. Novella has any bias or prejudice against faith, I have simply used his own words to provide evidence of that. However, I believe that in spite of his protestation that he has not drawn a false dichotomy between faith and reason, underlying pretty much everything he says about faith is that it is absent of reason. I urge the reader to go back and look at every instance where he mentions faith (other than his own) and see if you think he believes faith is devoid of reason or not.
Dr. Novella states: “Every single person I know personally who does not have faith also has a reasonable moral and ethical outlook.” What’s wrong with that statement? Every one he knows who does not have faith has a “reasonable moral and ethical outlook.” Reasonable according to whom? To him, of course. But, what do these folks think about adultery? What about sex outside of marriage? What about cheating on your taxes? What about divorce and remarriage? What about abortion? What about homosexual relations? What about euthanasia? What about embryonic stem cell research? What about cloning? What determines whether or not someone has a “reasonable moral and ethical outlook?” I suppose if you don’t have a “rigid” moral point of view...if you have a moral compass that doesn’t always point to the north, and it’s okay that it doesn’t always point to the north, that probably most folks have a “reasonable moral and ethical outlook.” As long as they’re not trying to kill you, eh?
He argues that I have not established that atheists are immoral. Well, he wins that argument because I never tried to establish that atheists are immoral. He knocks down another strawman. Dr. Novella goes on to say that faith is not necessary for ethics and good behavior. Again, another strawman. I never argued one way or the other on that matter.
However, I believe he does indeed condemn those who have faith. He condemns them as having faith as opposed to having reason. Yet, he has faith, even though he claims to have reason. So, he can have faith and reason, but Christians can’t. He assumes that our beliefs are based on faith without reason and condemns us as non-thinking, illogical, irrational human beings. Maybe “condemn” is too strong of a word...maybe I should have said he basically considers us irrelevant.
To close, Dr. Novella has indeed won a lot of arguments in this exchange. Too bad they were all arguments that he made up and presented on my behalf as if I had made them. I never did. As I have shown, Dr. Novella’s position is full of contradictions and a whole lot of nonsense. And, at it’s core, his vast tradition of humanist philosophy, as he has presented it, is based on selfishness. I have shown this over and over. His principle of reciprocity is not the same thing as the Golden Rule, even though he might like to portray it as such.
And, even though he rails against subjugating science and reason to faith, he has no problem subjugating faith to science and reason. And by that I mean, when it comes to God, science cannot “prove” or “disprove.” It is not in the purview of science or the scientist to do either. If someone says they base their faith that there is no God on science, then, with all due respect, they have no clue as to the proper role of science and to its limitations. In other words, they aren’t very scientific. And, when it comes to God, reason alone cannot take us to Him. Is it reasonable to expect the reasoning abilities of a finite mind to be able to completely explain and comprehend the infinite? Reason can only take us so far. The farthest point in the envelope of reason is the jumping off point for faith. Faith...true faith, not blind faith...builds upon and enlightens reason. It does not counter reason and it does not negate reason. If someone holds that finite reasoning capabilities must be able to comprehend and explain the infinite before the infinite can be believed, then they hold to a belief that is not reasonable.