kw: book reviews, nonfiction, religion, faith, debates
The cultural pendulum has swung so far in the anti-faith direction that apologia becomes necessary. Some pretty big names have published books based on the premise that religion is evil. Now, thankfully, a credible witness has arisen in David G. Myers, writing A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith isn't Evil.
Though the book has nineteen chapters, the author has three basic points. Firstly, that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. That is, it is historically true that some great evils have been perpetrated in the name of religion. However, let us not forget that the greatest evils known, in terms of mass destruction of human life and human habitat, were perpetrated by avowed atheists such as Stalin and Mao. Let us agree leave both kinds of extremism out of the debate as aberrations, and instead discuss the historical facts and current events as they impact the daily lives of people who have one or another belief, acknowledging that atheism also is a belief system.
Secondly, that having faith is good for those who have it, particularly those who actively follow their faith. Faith and its impact in people's lives has been studies a number of different ways, in many, many studies. "Statistical theology" has admittedly returned a null result, meaning that there is no statistical evidence for miraculous answers to prayer. For example, there have been studies of how well people did if they were prayed for and either knew it or didn't, compared with people who weren't prayed for. What confounds such studies is that a great many of the subjects of the study were being prayed for by people unknown to those who conducted the study, so the results don't allow us to untangle the known from the unknown effects. In other studies of subjective experiences, it has been consistently shown that people of faith are consistently more content.
Certain studies that seem to show better health or longevity in places with fewer numbers of people of faith, are shown in a new light. The better health, wealth and longevity are found to correlate best with greater levels of general education. Even the more, though education and religious practice seem to be anti-correlated, the faithful in those more educated places are more likely to be praying for the multitudes of the non-religious around them. Which brings up the third point.
Thirdly, living among the faithful is better, even for those who are not. Those countries or states that are so prosperous are enjoying the fruits of an earlier culture built on living faith and a religious culture of responsibility, self-control and hard work. Those areas in which faith has been largely abandoned are going downhill, becoming less congenial places to live. Those social experiments in which a serious attempt was made to abolish religion all turned into failures, and became miserable places. I think particularly of Russia and Eastern Europe, of people who are rekindling faith in huge numbers, even as they rebuild societies destroyed by official atheism.
The book closes with an appendix, "International Society for Science and Religion Statement on Intelligent Design." The crux of the statement is the sentence is, "We believe that intelligent design is neither sound science nor good theology," to which I say, "Amen." Let's stop arguing side points, and focus on the key issues. Author Myers has done much to clear away the underbrush of side points. People of faith and people without any faith deserve the chance to discuss their views without the dishonest historical clutter that has grown up around the entire arena.