…for aptly saying what ought to be said. His comment is under the “leaps of faith” post, and it’s worth reading. Correct me, Matt, if I frak this up, but I think the gist is that there’s a fundamental difference between the leap of faith required to accept the existence of any sort of non-Einsteinian metaphorical deity and the “leap of faith” required to defeat solipsism and accept the existence of the natural world. Maybe it’s too simplistic, but I don’t think solipsism actually wields much power over us, because our corporeal bodies serve at all times and in all places as direct interfaces with something…we call it a physical world, I guess, for lack of any better explanation. Try accepting solipsism’s premise…now, hold your finger over a candle. Not much consolation, is it? We are constantly confronted with proof of the universe’s existence and adherence to certain rules, and I think Occam’s Razor dictates that we rule out Matrix-y explanations.

But the principle goes even further, to the realm of morality: watching children beat another child, reading about the Khmer Rouge, visiting the Holocaust Museum–these things elicit actual feelings of moral outrage that are close to universal. These feelings are hard to quantify, but only psychopaths lack them. They’re ubiquitous, they’re obvious, and we have words for them. It would take a leap of faith not to accept the existence of the material world, just as it would take a leap of faith to deny that some kind of morality is hardwired into us. It does take a real leap of faith, however, to digest the idea of a deity, much less one who’s as peculiar (and meddlesome!) as Christianity’s.

Finally, I’m confused about your statement that “Science has gotten better, in large part, because morality and religion have started to keep their distance. Why should it be any different with religion?” What in the world would it mean for religion to “get better?” Science has a rigid and transparent system to keep it in line and keep it productive. Theology has…what? Church hierarchies? Prayer groups? A long lineage? Taking Christianity as an example, it’s easy to see that accepting the faith’s central tenet of man’s fallibility and inability to truly know God seems to doom it to stagnation. If the best, most progressive, most up-to-date advice Christianity can give me is “accept the mystery,” well, I’m not satisfied.

Dan, after your response, I’d like to take this in another direction. Our species’ history is, if nothing else, the history of hubris. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the realm of religion, where all sorts of natural features are portrayed as somehow bound to the destiny of Man (Christianity goes so far as to say that the entire frakking world was created just for us). But the more we learn about the physical universe, the more we see the opposite is true. Natural disasters are one good example. Earthquakes aren’t retribution from God or the gods for some slight, they’re just tectonic shifts. So what is it that makes us think we’re special enough to have been put here by a being who cares about us? Doesn’t that seem a little outlandish?

(And without stacking the deck, I’ll wager now that it is precisely our hubris that convinces us we’re more than we really are, and that makes religion plausible to so many people…)

Thanks, Matt, for contributing. Matt’s blog is http://ficke.blogspot.com/

–Morgan Hubbard