I recently sawÂ A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isnâ€™t EvilÂ on the shelf at my local Borders. I almost bought it but I thought I might end up not liking it and was hesitant to spend the money on it so I selfishly used my clout as a Skepchick blogger and asked the author to have his publisher send me a review copy. About a week later, it showed up in my mailbox. I am not sure why I wanted to read this book. I’ve beenÂ conscientiouslyÂ avoiding the books that could be considered “fleas” riding along on the back of the atheist bestsellers, but something about this book caught my interest. I guess it was that it claimed to be friendly, and that the author seriously seemed to want to have a dialog with unbelievers, rather than a debate. (As you may know from many of my previous posts, I absolutely despise debates and arguments and I think they are basically an annoying and unproductive a waste of time.)
I ended up reading the entire book. I agreed with some parts of it, thought the author missed the point in other parts, but in general I was pleased to find that the book was congenial and interesting. I am not going to go over the book point by point to tell you which parts I disagreed with. You’ll have to read it yourself and come to your own conclusions. But I can say, that there are many interesting topics that could lead to fruitful discussions between believers and unbelievers, if we can refrain ourselves from trying to always be right and get points for making the other guy look stupid. I hope many of you will take the time to give this book a chance.Â
Because I’ve been sick lately, I’ve asked the author to write a guest post in lieu of having an interview. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to pose any questions that come to mind in the comments.
And without further ado….
by David G. Myers
Can a skeptic believe in God? Can an appreciative longtime subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines also be a theist? Can someone who has written about the perils of unchecked intuition, and who begins his introductory psychology text with a chapter on â€œThinking Critically with Psychological Science,â€ find meaning in religious faith? Can someone whose skeptical website is Googleâ€™s first nonWikipedia result for “extrasensory perceptionâ€ searches be spiritually engaged?
As I explain in this new little book, itâ€™s possible, methinks, to transcend the skeptic/believer dichotomy. That involves suggesting to people of faith a faith-based case for science and to skeptics the possibility of a reasonable, meaningful, and humane faith.
Bridging skepticism and faith requires, first, accepting many indictments of religion, which, especially in religionâ€™s fundamentalist forms, is often associated with irrationality and evil. And it requires embracing the religious spirit of humility, which acknowledges that we all have dignity but not deity, and therefore need to check our error-prone ideas against reality. Thus, informed by science and by recent biblical scholarship, many people of faith have taken a new look at their former understandings of the soul, of intercessory prayer, and of sexual orientation.
All that said, I then seek to offer my skeptical friends the outlines of a progressive, biblically rooted, â€œever-reformingâ€ faithâ”€a faith that is hopeful, science-affirming, and humane. For example, in contrast to assertions that religionâ”€all religionsâ”€are dangerous or even evil, the available evidence indicates that religiosity, on balance, is associated with happiness, helpfulness, and health.
I must tip the hat to Skepchick readers, who form a counter example to data I present in a little chapter on â€œThe Skeptics Boys Club.â€ Skepticism has generally been the province of the male and pale. Authors of skeptical and new atheist books, 20th century skeptical heroes (as identified by the Skeptical Inquirer), and members of skeptical organizations are predominantly Euro-American White men. If we were to judge from who is authoring New Age books, and from those who believe in God, worship, and pray, women and African Americans appear more open to spirituality and to nonrational forms of knowing.
As a male and pale rationalist myself, I often find myself cheering on the skeptical guys (and Skepchicks). Indeed, I take pleasure in critically examining not only ESP but also near-death experiences, subliminal persuasion, astrology, alleged repressed and recovered memories, alternative medicine, and much more. My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.
And my larger aim in this book is to suggest to skeptical friends how someone might share their commitment to evidence and skepticism, while also embracing a faith that makes sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, connects us in supportive communities, mandates altruism, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.
David G. Myers professes psychology at Hope College. His seventeen books include (with excerpts available online) Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, and, most recently, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isnâ€™t Evil. Religion writer David Crumm interviews Myers about his new little book here.