Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bill Maher's Interview with "The View"

On the September 30 episode of the popular daytime show, The View, Bill Maher was interviewed about his new movie, "Religulous." He made one comment that I found particularly intellectually dishonest. Maher stated that faith is defined as "a lack of critical thinking." I am not going to give him the benefit of the doubt in assuming he was just trying to garner more viewers for his newly released movie through a controversial interview. In fact, without having seen the film, I believe it is safe to say he actually holds this opinion. I will, however, go see his film and review it here.

So why is this statement intellectually dishonest? First, Maher's statement is not necessarily true. I can be a person either of religious faith or of no religous faith and "lack critical thinking." Second, if he is stating that the definiton of "faith" entails a lack of critical thinking, then one can assume if you have faith in anything, then it is solely because you lack critical thinking. So if you have faith in your own reasoning abilities (critical thinking abilities), according to Maher, you lack critical thinking. Of course, I am taking liberties with the word "faith;" liberties which Maher would probably not agree with. He most likely would address faith as "religious faith." So then, my third point is that his statement makes no mention of the fact that numerous influential philosophers, economists, educators, social reformers, inventors, and scientists throughout history have had religious "faith." So who lacks the critical thinking in the third instance? Is it the people who had religious faith or the people who followed these influential historical persons of religious faith? (That would be all of us, by the way: atheist, agnostic, and believer alike.)

Normally, I do not respond to such outright ridiculousness on the part of the entertainment industry: such is the freedom of expression. However, when there is a chance that millions of people may be swayed by such an unthoughtful comment (not unthoughtful as in emotionally, but as in actually not utilizing the information available to come to a conclusion), it becomes necessary for me to respond. So I ask that you think through what is being said when people make such claims. A person may opine that people of faith are uncritical thinkers, but proving this to be the case 100% of the time is a task of much greater magnitude (or, as I like to say, a whole nother ball park). Perhaps Bill Maher should think more critically about his critical thinking statements.

Addendum: I realize throughout the history of Christianity, we have had some poor representations of the Christian faith, which could lead to such a misconception of faith. If Christians are currently representing "faith" as being a belief held to completely without reason, this idea is not based in a Biblical understanding of Christianity.

Acts 17:2-3, Colossians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 4:6-7, 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Peter 1:16


A post note: I will also respond to his ill-informed claim that the story of Jesus is "just like" the story of Horus. This is a horribly uncritical statement concerning the area of comparative religions and mythology.


Christian Tshirts said...

Christian Tshirts are a great way to share your faith. We should all speak out against the untruths in Bill Maher's movie...

Anonymous said...

That Bill Maher would be allowed to make a movie is a lack of critical thinking.

Joel said...

Neither Jesus nor the Apostles nor the church fathers after them defined faith as something counter to reason. The divide that keeps being drawn between faith and reason is part of the enlightenment heritage, and well described in Schaeffer's The God Who Is There.

Nobody is asked to exalt faith in the implausible. Without eyewitness testimony regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus there would be no Christianity. Without the much greater plausibility that Jesus rose from the dead than that he didn't I would not be a Christian.

As far as world view goes, many such as myself find the Christian world view most plausible when it is laid side by side with the common observable truth about the world as we know it, and the common observable truth of human beings we we know them.

Maher may find different plausibilities as he looks at the world, and he is free to do that, but his definition of faith is not only completely not correct, it is condescending and arrogant, just like he is.

Appeals to reason about in Scripture. I doubt he knows much about what Scripture has to say about the nature of faith.

Cari said...

We still have to make a choice, whether concious or sub- or un- to have faith in something. Having faith is me saying I'm ok to trust God and not have to have every physical evidence-because, of course, then it wouldn't be faith, it would be knowledge or fact. It's people who need proof, who require their own strength or knowledge of something to believe in it, and then, what's the point of humble faith? Pride and arrogance won't get you anywhere. It's a very comfortable, confident person who can say "I don't need proof, and yet I know."

Terry said...

Perhaps we could narrow his generalization: he believe's people lack critical thinking about their faith (and not, people of faith lack critical thinking in general). Believing something on faith does require an intellectual leap of assent (for instance, on the can think about it until you're blue in the face, but at some point, you just have to realize that you can't actually think about the Trinity).

It many ways, I think he's quite right about this. The Holiness Movement disliked the concept of educated clergy, because it had a way of pushing out piety. From Augustine's North Africa, to the Bible belt's "Joe Six-Packs," these folks (on average) are the one's who can balance greater piety with a certain acceptance of religious faith without challenging the issue.

This totally ignores, however, those individuals who have critically considered their faith. Origen and Augustine come to mind immediately. Both of them realized that there were surface problems, inconsistencies, paradoxes in Scripture. Origen was quick to say we shouldn't take all of Genesis 1-3 literally at all (Augustine's doctrine of original sin required a literal approach to the book). Even Paul was quick to reinterpret Jewish relgious texts in the light of Christ.

So, I agree that Mr. Maher using the uneducated Christian as a strawman for all of them. But, I think you argument ignored his primary concern.

Terry said...

pardon the grammar...writing on the fly!

Two Chix Apologetics said...


My argument is based on his comments on The View. I do not believe that he articulated his position well in this interview (which happens often when people only have 30 second to 1 minute sound bytes in which to do so). I refuted his comment because it was such an oversimplification of the issue, as you have written above.

Apparently, as shown in the presidential campaigns over the years, if people hear the same sound bytes again and again, there is a possibility they will start to believe these sayings. Of course, this is a generalization and does not apply to everyone. But if that statement applies to anyone, I think it is necessary to combat sound bytes, as well. Therefore, I am refuting his sound byte as it stands.

But thank you. Yes, I am not refuting his whole philosophy or his entire concept of faith. However, if he is going to make those kind of quick statements, I will call his logic into question on that particular statement.

And yes, there is an element of faith in belief in God. In response to Cari and Terry: There is an aspect to the difference between "Creator" and "created" that plays into what you are saying. The created mind cannot reach the ability of the Creator's mind. This is one area where I have to have faith: the mind of God. I cannot know the mind of God fully or the full explanation of how a Trinity is possible.


Jeffrey said...

>Maher stated that faith is defined as "a lack of critical thinking."

After his interview with Francis Collins (in the movie itself), Maher admits that he had never even heard of the idea of historical evidence for the Resurrection. So that gives a pretty good idea of how little nuance Maher intended.

However, I don't think he's that far off. Most Christians don't even want to learn theology, much less what the reasons are for thinking it is true. What they substitute for thinking through their beliefs is saying they have faith.

It's even the case with more reasoned approaches to faith. Often, an apologist will give evidence for their position. But faith requires more than thinking there is evidence, and following it where it leads. The jump between thinking there is evidence and possessing certainty requires faith – this might not be exactly how you would say it, but I doubt I'm far off. As long as the evidential arguments are valid, this isn't so bad. When you have a justified 90% certainty, an unjustified absolute certainty is only harmful 10% of the time.

But where faith rears it ugly head is when the evidence comes into question. What would you do if you started thinking the evidence was weaker than you previously thought or even points in the opposite direction? The response of faith is to attribute this to some emotional or spiritual weakness. The language used at its most extreme is “I think I might be losing my faith.” Why blame it on a lack of faith? Would not the critically thinking response be “the evidence is suggesting that I might be wrong?”

To suggest that the problem is in one's head, rather than in one's heart is not PC (pastorally correct.) This is the double standard of reason-based faith. When the evidence is there, the belief comes from reason. When the evidence is missing, the problems with faith can be swept under the rug through a self-ad hominem of “I'm struggling to believe.”

Also, I think that the more reason-based approaches to faith are more reasonable than the Bible itself. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Imagine how much comfort this verse gives Christians who use faith to justify the suspension of critical thinking. They are blessed! “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The phrases “hoped for” and “not seen” are not quite the same as “without evidence,” but that is the direction of the implication. At best, this means faith is absolute certainty in places where evidence exists, but certainty is not justified. A few examples given in Hebrews 11 involve the evidence of God speaking, but these details are not the point, or else this would be more explicit – the point is to be assured of things with or without a reason.

That's close enough that I don't fault a comedian for essentially saying faith is always assurance without a reason.

Two Chix Apologetics said...


Thanks for your comments.

//Most Christians don't even want to learn theology, much less what the reasons are for thinking it is true.//

Perhaps you should clarify exactly who “most Christians” are. I do not believe that by “most Christians” you are including the entirety of Christian believers throughout 2000 years of history. It has only been of late in Christian history that the culture of Western Christianity (totally excluding current orthodox Christianity in other parts of the world) has relegated itself to somewhat of a differentiation between faith and reason. By culture, I am mean to imply that it is a culturally accepted ideology, not an orthodox Christian position. By utilizing “somewhat,” I mean to say I agree in that some Christians do come across this way, but the differentiation is ultimately unmerited.

Justin Martyr in A.D. 155 in his appeal to the Roman emperor Hadrian for a fair hearing on Christianity states, “Reason requires that those who are truly pious and philosophers should honor and cherish the truth alone, scorning merely to follow the opinions of the ancients, if they are worthless…In these pages we do not come before you with flattery, or as if making a speech to win your favor, but asking you to give judgment according to strict and exact inquiry – not moved by prejudice or respect for superstitious men, or by irrational impulse.” And what of Martin Luther who, in response to opposition to his writings about God, said, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Throughout the entire Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, people are told to gain wisdom and understanding. One example: Proverbs 4:6-7, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” A partial list of some of wisdom Scriptures from Proverbs: 1:7, 20; 2:6, 12; 3:13, 4:5-7, 7:4; 8:1; 9:10; 10:23, 12:8, 14:8; 21:30; 23:23; 24:14.

The New Testament author Luke investigated the stories of Jesus and wrote down his own account for his friend, Theophilus. “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:1-4.

And I am only skimming the surface of many more verses concerning the value of wisdom and of truth that are in the Biblical texts.

I will short answer these verses: “Blessed are they who did not see and yet believed.” Jesus had just resurrected from the dead and appeared to the disciples. Those who do not need a miracle (in this case, an eye-to-eye with God incarnate) to come to an understanding of God Jesus called “blessed.” (An alternative to seeing a miracle could be deductive reasoning.) “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 1) Highlight this verse against all the wisdom-related scriptures of the Old and New Testament and reconcile it. 2) Who is being addressed and why do they need to hear this statement? The addressees are Jewish Christians who are fearful of persecution. So how would this statement provide hope for them in their present situation? 3) Utilizing the English translation of certain words as proof of your point is not a very exact methodology. The Greek words should be checked to see if they still mean the same as what you have deduced from the English. Even well-meaning preachers make this mistake sometimes. Basically, “Sound-byte Christianity” doesn’t represent orthodox Christian doctrine too well.

// The jump between thinking there is evidence and possessing certainty requires faith – this might not be exactly how you would say it, but I doubt I'm far off.//

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you in this section, but my evidence for the existence of God would fall under the category of propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge is a justified true belief; it is believing something that is true on the basis of adequate grounds. As J.P. Moreland states, “When we seek the knowledge of God, specific biblical texts, morality, and a host of other things, we should not assume that our search requires reaching a state with no doubt, no plausible counterarguments, no possibility of being mistaken.” Knowledge does not require certainty. Of course, I am not covering all the ways that people have knowledge of God, but I am addressing the evidential apologetics aspect from your post.

// What would you do if you started thinking the evidence was weaker than you previously thought or even points in the opposite direction?//

Well, first, I would continue to do what I am already doing. Research the arguments on both sides of the evidence. If I were to reach a point where my propositional knowledge of God led to the conclusion that God did not exist, then I would need to reconsider my belief in God as true. That’s not what I’m finding, though.

I don’t fault a comedian for having an opinion. If he believes he has absolute truth, well then I can fault him if he does not. Perhaps Mr. Maher does not think he has the absolute truth?


Anonymous said...

Maher was wrong about faith. Sadly he hasn't realized that the miraculous realm of spirit cannot be confined to reason or logic, as certain as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

What Maher is raging about is understandable, though. Millions of Evangelicals have supported a political philosophy of greed, war, hate, prejudice, deceit, and hypocrisy. This is surely an affront to Jesus Christ, himself.

It seems to me that a great wave of rectification needs to arise in the Evangelical movement, a revival of truth. It's not enough to be outraged by sexual transgressions of the lost. The problem with millions of nominal Christians is they turn a blind eye to Matthew, Chapter 28-the instruction of Jesus to do EVERYTHING that he has commanded.That most definitely includes not to be of this world, but only in this world. No, we don't need big SUVs, no, we don't need a cool speed boat, no, we don't need a big house, only one that is sufficient, and that with most humble thanks and appreciation. If global warming turns out to be man-made then the millions of nominal Christians who have denied that because of their earthly desires for more cheap stuff are going to face the ire of God. And they've had an extreme merciful amount of years to see which way the wind blows. It's Pascal's wager. Bet on the right side. Keirkegard said each must choose, there's no getting around it. We may see each one's judgment right there.

I realize this may be too controversial for you to publish. I'm used to being controversial, but the Kingdom of God is worth it. I'll address the tough issues which the pastor in his pulpit may shy away from since too many of his flock may walk out.

If you would like, feel free to email me for further discussion.

God's blessings on all here.


asharpfamily said...

I'm not sure how Maher can hold to anything he said on "The View" after hearing your paper...

Terry said...

"This is one area where I have to have faith: the mind of God. I cannot know the mind of God fully or the full explanation of how a Trinity is possible."

Interesting-Gregory Nazianzus said the same thing in his Theological Orations, particularly 27 and 28, and following Origen, stressed the role of Christ as being the visible revelation of the invisible deity.

Terry said...

On a side note, it might be interesting to consider reason and faith in light of Justin Martyr's Logo theology.

Nick said...

Hi Mary Jo. Roger linked me to this as I'm researching Bill Maher now some. I have seen Religulous also and wrote my own review of it. Bill Maher as far as I see is not really interested in truth. He throws out softballs and thinks they're hard hits when these are questions I was answering years ago when I just got started in apologetics. I often wish I'd ran into Bill Maher when he was making his documentary. His objections are pathetically weak and what is even more pathetic is that some people actually think they have substance.