Having it “Both Ways”

It has become a famous slogan from the fast-food restaurant Burger King to “have it your way.”  This is in the spirit of our self-centered mindset in which we would all prefer to have things “our way.”  Who could honestly not admit this?  When contemplating religious belief, and in particular Christianity as well as other dualism-based religions such as Judaism and Islam, it is quite apparent upon close examination just how much those who maintain and adhere to these belief systems for each of these religions try to have things “their way,” which require them to have things “both ways.”  I have addressed this before in other writings, especially in “Morality,” but felt it was an important enough topic to address by itself in a separate writing, since the more I contemplate religion and religious belief, the more clearly I see how rampant this “have it both ways” thinking is in so much of theistic thought. In fact, theism by its very nature as the belief in separate, opposite, and independent “realities” of the “material” and the “spiritual” could not exist were it not for the contradictions and double-standards their belief systems contain, as I have stated several times before in other writings.

The reason theists need to “have it both ways,” is because at bottom they cannot have both their religious beliefs in the supernatural, as well as knowledge of reality – of the “natural,” phenomenal world as we know it at the same time without having it “both ways.”  This is quite evident when religious believers speak of their faith as if it were fact – something I explored at some length in “Prove It,”  and something I feel strongly enough about to explore further in this post. Because this faith-fact conflation is so widespread and is almost certainly unconscious in the minds of many, and because such a conflation is simply incorrect – faith is not necessarily fact, it is important we call people on it when they make this incorrect conflation by reminding them of the difference between faith and fact. To be fair, we almost certainly all do this to some extent in several areas of our lives – believing things to be fact when we don’t truly know it as fact.  But in the case of almost everything except religion we have corrective tools to check ourselves against reality to actually verify the truth of a given claim.  That is the critical and important difference between the scientific method and religious faith. As stated previously in “Prove It,” virtually no religious believer is honest enough with themselves to admit the fact that what they are actually doing with their religious convictions is calling something fact by simply believing it is true without knowing it is true.

To paraphrase an eloquently related concept as stated by Greta Christina, with the notable exception of religion, in every other discipline in which hypotheses or assurances are made, you eventually have to pony up.  At some point, the bill comes due.  In other words, at some point the “bill” of faith in a hypothesis has to be “paid” – or verified as fact – in this life, and in this world.  With religious claims it is quite convenient for the believer who does not wish their claims to be falsified, the bill never gets paid until after death – when we will only then supposedly “finally know” all of our faith claims are true, when we will finally and once and for all be vindicated our beliefs are factually correct, when we finally “see God” face-to-face.  This is the supreme example of the non-falsifiability of religious claims.  Of course, they cannot be falsified precisely because this “knowledge” only comes to us after death, when nobody can return to actually tell us about it and is something we ourselves cannot experience until after we die. That is why the concept of the afterlife is absolutely essential to religious belief since it is only then when the “truth” of religious faith is finally verified as fact.  Without the afterlife, religious belief is never verified as fact.  “Near-death” experiences cannot count as evidence for what supposedly “happens” after death, simply by virtue of they fact they are near death experiences, and not truly death experiences.  Even if we could count on these near-death experiences as supposed “evidence” of what happens after death, we would still have to rely on the subjective experiences of individuals not verifiable by third parties.  As we will explore in more depth later on, religious experiences are always things that go on inside the mind of the believer, or the stories of others we are told to take “on faith,” not things third parties can also experience and observe, which therefore cannot be falsified – cannot be shown to be true or false.  These facts alone make it clear that religious belief is the subjective experience of the individual, and is not reflective of an “objective reality” that actually exists outside our minds.  The fact so many varied religions and spiritual beliefs exist throughout the world – many of which contradict each other, only further demonstrates the non-objective, and therefore imaginary quality of religious faith.

Because religion by its nature is faith based, and not evidence based, it therefore has no factual basis against which to check the truth or falsity of a given claim. That is the reason why religious convictions are especially problematic. This non-falsifiability problem does not exist in many other areas of thought such as science, philosophy, logic, etc.  These disciplines have correctives in place to verify the truth or falsity of a given claim precisely because they are based on evidence and sound reasoning. No such correctives exist for religious beliefs precisely because they are based on faith.  It is like driving a car without a steering wheel, and the fact religion can get away with holding this profoundly mistaken double-standard about knowing what is actually true is the very problem with it.  If religion is going to be of any value in discerning what is actually true, then religious claims need to be subject to testing and falsifiability, just the same as any other claim for truth or reality.  Just like everyone else, religious apologists have to show their work to demonstrate how they arrived at their understanding, just the same as we ask this of students in school.  Good teachers do not let students get away with mindlessly claiming that 35,000/8=4,375.  They need to show their work to demonstrate how they arrived at their conclusion. Those who make religious claims need to be held to the same standard as those we hold to students – to “show their work” as it were, instead of mindlessly and lazily appealing to “authority” or “revelation” – neither of which can be proven or demonstrated to be true or factual. Religious apologists who would posit the “truth” of their claims without evidence or sound reasoning need to understand the fact they cannot hide behind cleverly contrived false “loopholes” such as the idea religion and spirituality are somehow “different,” and therefore “above” or “beyond” the same standards of falsification as everything else we verify as fact and truth in the natural world.  They cannot justify their epistemological double-standard because while not all religious claims have to do with life in the natural world, many religious claims do have to do with life in the natural world such as our human origins, the origins of our planet and the universe, why we get sick and die, etc.  Since these claims have to do with life in the natural world, they are therefore subject to testing and falsification, just the same as every other claim or hypothesis for reality in the natural world, and is the reason why the copout false “loophole” that spiritual and religious claims for reality are “above” and “beyond” science, evidence, and sound reasoning is false, and is one of the reasons why religious apologists cannot have it both ways.  

Religious apologists need to simply produce the evidence and/or sound reasoning – to “show me the money” as it were, to verify the factual correctness of their claims, or stop speaking of so-called “truths” as if they are fact that are not backed by evidence and sound reasoning. The bottom line is, those who would make religious claims simply need to play by the same rules of falsification as everyone else. They need to stop acting as though they are justified by a false double-standard which dictates they don’t have to play by the same rules of falsification as everyone else who makes truth or factual claims, and those of us who in commitment to the truth do play by those rules, or at least make an honest effort to do so, need to call others on it when they don’t. The fact is, many people make decisions that profoundly effect their lives as well as the lives of others based not on fact, but on faith – faith in ideas which could very likely be mistaken, such as the ideas we have “immortal souls,” that God “answers prayers,” or that we will all one day be resurrected from the dead to stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the “last day.”

While believers tend to conflate faith with fact to the point it often appears almost unconscious in their minds, as stated previously, it is a mistake in logic to make such a conflation.  For if something truly is a matter of faith, then by definition there can be no evidence for it.  Once you have genuine evidence for something, you therefore move into the realm of fact, and no longer faith.  That is why faith and fact are not, and cannot be one and the same. It is possible to believe in something that actually is true, without knowing it is true because you might not be aware of the evidence backing it up.  However, this is merely a coincidence – when you accidentally believe something is true that just so happens to also be a fact.  Nevertheless, belief without evidence and fact with evidence are not the same thing.  That is why if a religious believer claims they have “evidence” for God, then it cannot be faith they are speaking of, but fact.  So why do religious believers call it “religious faith” and not “religious fact” if there is supposed “evidence” which would verify the reality of God as religious believers claim? The reason is because believers know on some level they are not talking about fact, but about faith.  However, what is so dishonest about many religious believers is how they tend to conflate faith with fact, even while using the word “faith,” as if it were a virtue, while at the same time believing their faith claims to be true – to be factual.  The dishonesty in not simply calling faith for what it is – an opinion or a hypothesis about reality without evidence,  instead of facts about reality backed up by evidence is in direct contradiction to what is often defined as a “Christian” or “religious” virtue to never lie, but to instead tell the truth.  If a religious believer was serious about telling the truth, then they would call their faith for what it is – an opinion, or belief about reality without evidence, and stop conflating faith with fact.  This conflation is perhaps the prime example of religious believers trying to have it both ways.  Either something is a matter of faith, or a matter of fact.  It cannot be both.

Another excellent example of this “have it both ways” thinking is in the way believers try to speak of how the “spiritual realm” regularly affects and influences the “worldly,” physical realm.  Examples of this range from the belief in “divine intervention,” the belief in God as “pure spirit” who created the world and answers prayers, the idea there are “eternal souls” that supposedly interact with people on Earth and leave our bodies after death, to angels who supposedly “watch over us,” etc. – none of which of course leave any verifiable evidence of their existence.  While it is claimed by believers on the one hand the “spiritual realm” is “transcendent” and “beyond” time and space, they also claim this “transcendent realm” also affects the material world of time and space at the same time.  Again – it cannot be both.  Either the “spiritual” truly is “beyond” time and space of this world and can therefore have no effect on this world, or it does affect this world and is therefore nothing more than another aspect of reality that everyday people and scientists can therefore empirically verify like any other aspect of reality such as matter and gravity.

This dualistic way of thinking – of believing reality is comprised of two opposite and separate, essential “realities” – the “spiritual” and the “material,” as championed by Rene Descartes in the 1600s, has been thoroughly debunked by modern science which supports the idea that reality is a closed system – a single whole with no “outside forces” from the whole influencing it, which is a contradictory and therefore false idea anyway.  The fact that characteristics often considered the domain of the “soul,” such as personality, character, and ability, are affected and altered by physical means such as drugs, alcohol, and brain damage, clearly demonstrate the physicality of our selves being what the brain does, and not an “unchanging” spiritual component.  For if our personalities or “souls” were not material, then physical changes to the brain would not also produce changes in the “soul.”  But we know as a matter of fact that physical changes to the brain do produce changes in the “soul,” or the personality of the individual. This fact, combined with the big conundrum Descartes faced about explaining exactly how this “non-material” and “spiritual” realm or “soul” could possibly interact with the physical body and the material world, is a question Descartes himself could never answer, and one that still has not been answered to this day by apologists, spiritualists, scientists, or anyone else.  How can a non-material soul interact with a physical body to tell it what to do if the “soul” is “in control” of our thoughts and actions?  For if something is beyond the material world, then it could therefore have no effect on the material world either.  That is the logical, philosophical, physiological, and scientific dilemma facing all who would posit this contradictory claim of a “non-material” and “spiritual” realm which somehow acts on and affects the material world at the same time.  Of course, in order for the religious to claim the existence of God and the soul, they must have it “both ways,” and so these impossible logical and physiological problems with these “spiritual” explanations for our selves or “souls” are simply ignored in order to maintain their beliefs.  But ignoring these problems does not take away the fact we cannot have it both ways since the very idea of two opposite, separate, and “independent” realities as posited by this belief in the “spiritual realm” as separate and independent from the “material realm” is provably false by pure logic alone since if that were the case, then one “reality” would cancel out the other, which would result in a “reality” of nothingness, which is obviously false.  Simple math tells us that 1 (material world) -1 (spiritual world) = 0.  The logical contradiction of dualism – the premise of reality being comprised of two opposite, separate and independent “realities” is why such a premise is false, and why religious apologists cannot have it both ways. 

Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, and Lee Strobel, to name but a few, would not have a job as apologists if Christian and/or religious claims were supported by genuine, credible evidence and sound reasoning.  If the scientific/intellectually honest community recognized the “evidence” for Christianity and religion as genuine, then they would embrace it and if necessary, revise their worldview, as any credible scientist or philosopher would in light of credible, peer-reviewed, double-blind tested evidence that holds up to testing and sound reasoning.  That is the beauty of the scientific method.  It is open to change in light of new evidence, unlike religious faith. But more to the point, why is it religious apologists feel the need to provide “evidence” for their faith in the first place? If what they believe is a matter of faith as they claim, then as stated previously, there is no evidence by definition, and they should simply accept that without further explanation or justification if they are genuinely okay with taking things on faith alone.  Could it be they are genuinely not okay with taking things on faith alone? That they feel they need to justify their faith with “evidence” because they know factual claims about reality cannot be made without evidence… that faith alone is simply not good enough to make a factual claim? What other genuine reason would apologists have to feel compelled to provide so-called “evidence” for their religious beliefs? Even William Lane Craig has admitted he would continue to believe in God and Jesus Christ even if evidence and logic showed their existence to be false – which is precisely the point – religious apologists simply manufacture or manipulate apparent “evidence” and “logic” to support their desired conclusions since their worldviews are not supported by evidence or sound reasoning, but by faith.  However, the cognitive dissonance apologists feel between knowing the fact that evidence and not faith alone can tell us what is true, while wanting to take their truth claims on faith at the same time, is what drives religious apologists to invent “evidence” for their faith claims, while hiding or manipulating genuine evidence that invalidate their claims. The bottom line is, the behavior of religious apologists proves the fact they are dishonest and lying to themselves – that even they know deep down it is evidence and sound reasoning that tell us what is factual and true – not “faith alone” as they claim.  Behavior is everything. For if religious apologists did not value evidence or reason deep down, and thought “faith alone” was “good enough,” why then would they manufacture or manipulate evidence and create misleading and convoluted logical arguments to support their desired conclusions?

Again – it is convenient for believers who do not wish to have their faith claims falsified that so-called religious “evidence” is never observable to third parties, since it is always either something going on inside the mind of the believer, or someone else’s story we are told to take “on faith” – not something going on in the outside world that leaves actual evidence everyone else could empirically verify, and is therefore not subject to testing and falsifiability, rendering their hypotheses useless for explaining reality.  Genuine scientific and philosophical hypotheses about reality are falsifiable, and if they aren’t, they are rejected due to their inability to explain anything.  If a drug is claimed to “work” whether you get sick, get well, or stay the same, then you have proven nothing about its effectiveness or lack of effectiveness.  This same non-falsifiability of religious claims, such as the idea every prayer is an “answered prayer” whether the answer is yes, no, or wait, also explains nothing about whether prayer works or it doesn’t.  While the non-falsifiability of religious hypotheses appears to shield them from being destroyed because they cannot be disproven, it is the very fact they cannot be disproven that destroys their credibility.  The true strength of a hypothesis is shown in one which can be disproven, yet is not disproven even after thorough testing. “Thou shalt not put God to the test” is a threat from the “divine word” not to question the authority of God, but to simply believe without questioning.  If God was real, then he could be put to the test, and would be proven true.  Ironically enough, the fact God cannot be put to the test is precisely what makes the hypothesis for his existence a meaningless explanation of reality.  A credible being would welcome being put to the test – not admonish others to not put them to the test, because a being with any integrity would value the freedom of others to think for themselves, and to arrive at the truth through their own inquiry.

The fact we are admonished by religious scripture to not put God to the test tells us all we need to know – to not question because if we actually thought about this, we would discover it isn’t true.  All of this admonishment demonstrates there is obviously something to hide – the truth.  The only reason to not test things is to shield them from criticism and falsifiability.  If something is true, it passes the test.  If it isn’t true, it fails the test.  It’s as simple as that.  The admonishment to not put God to the test is a copout designed to keep us from discovering the truth. Again – either a claim is a matter of fact, or a matter of faith.  It cannot be both, and is yet another reason why religious apologists cannot have it both ways. 

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