I write on the 385th anniversary of Galileo’s appearance before the Pope’s Inquisition in Rome to answer for his audacious heresy in claiming the Earth orbited the Sun. As silly as such an event might seem to us now, in truth little has changed. Science and reason remain challenged, and often thwarted, by religious zealots and their enablers today much as in 1633.
Stem cell technology, climate science, and medicinal marijuana are easy examples of the ongoing religious pogrom against progress, there are of course others. All of which begs the question, in the twenty-first century, how can such primitive superstitions and myths still wield the influence they do, why have they not long been cast aside?
The defenders of the inane of course won’t be dissuaded by such questions, much less bother thinking about them. Truth and right are on their side, their god has told them so. Science and skepticism are as much faith-based as any religion, even more so. Prove they are wrong.
In any rational discussion the shoe belongs on the other foot, it is the maker of the existential claim who bears the burden of proof, not the skeptic. I could make any wild-ass claim I wished, and no matter how nonsensical, you could not prove me wrong. That’s just the way logic works.
Many religious apologists of course avoid such a discussion and instead rely on carefully designed arguments to defend their claims. The four pillars of this approach are the Ontological Argument, the Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Design (or, as Richard Dawkins has called it, the Argument from Personal Incredulity), and the Moral Argument.
All are weak and easily countered, but more importantly “prove” nothing and thus are useless, because – and here I repeat myself – empirical claims require evidence, not arguments. Christopher Hitchens perhaps expressed it most eloquently: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence.” The fact is there is no evidence for the existence of any god, ever.
Simply put, and herein may well be the reason religion fears and attacks science as it does, every discovery ever made about the natural world has reduced the need for god(s) as an explanation, and often demonstrated that claims made for and about god(s) are simply wrong. Look no further than the first two chapters of Genesis for several prime examples of that.