Continuing my new series about misunderstandings, I want to address an issue that has popped up in an on-going debate I’m having on Facebook. Unlike in my last post, I won’t be linking to anything because it’s all happening on a personal page of a friend (which is probably private anyway), nor will I give out any names.

So, the debate I’m having is wide-ranging and there’s a lot to address in it, but I want to focus on one specific area: whether religion is a force for good or evil. I had a twopart post back in November where I argued that people do good things because of their human nature, but what allows for evil acts is the scourge that is faith, otherwise known as belief without evidence:

If a large premise of religion (and belief in God) is that one doesn’t need to use reason and rationality to come to bold conclusions, then what stops a person from going a step further and saying that God wants his followers to take x’s land, or oppress y’s people, or kill people of belief z? Indeed, arguments leading to these conclusions have all been made using religion – Christian and Muslim invasions, Christian-based slavery, 9/11. It may be argued that these are incorrect conclusions, but 1) there’s no objective way to determine that and 2) if the religion says faith is a virtue, then there is no need to enter something as wacky as reasons into the debate, is there?

Faith is simply not a valid basis for believing anything by virtue of its very nature. This is what underpins religion and, thus, undermines our good nature.

The misunderstanding of this came when I was accused of implying that human nature does not lead people to do bad things. Of course, I never argued such a thing. Just as our evolutionary history helps to explain why we might be motivated to do good acts, it also helps to explain why we’re sometimes outright bastards. After all, sometimes being greedy can pay off. Theft occasionally pans out, whether it happened 100,000 years ago on the African plains or 10 minutes ago at the local gas station. Some people manage to commit murder, not get caught, and actually improve their lot in life (again, whether tens of thousands of years ago or yesterday). However, none of this undermines my argument that religion is an influencing factor for bad deeds. People still believe crazy things on the basis of the nothingness of faith, thus allowing and sometimes even encouraging them to do heinous things.