Author’s Note: You can read the previous post here.
I’ve been going through an article that is a good example of religious gaslighting in some Christian forms of communication. The cited article is a great example of gaslighting. In my previous two posts, I talked about the importance of establishing common values, and then how that gets used to sow doubt.
This post will deal with the payoff: reaping uncertainty.
What science has told us isn’t in conflict with belief in God. But more than that, belief in God actually fits better with science than atheism does. Actually there’s a conflict between science and atheism. If we’re taking science seriously about what it says (and we both agree we should), I’m convinced that atheism simply doesn’t have the resources to explain science itself.
Essentially, if this line of reasoning is accurate, then the post author is turning the question around. It’s not atheism that is in accordance with science, but faith. It’s not faith that’s in conflict with science, it’s atheism. This is great doublespeak.
Fortunately, it’s not true. Here’s why.
The author is subtly moving the discussion elsewhere.
The original question the author was trying to answer is if science disproves his deity. It was not, “Can science explain itself?” Neither was it, “Can science answer everything?” Either of these questions leads to a fundamentally different discussion. Instead of talking about religious belief and scientific knowledge, we’re talking about the philosophical underpinnings of science, why it works, and its limitations.
Rhetorically, the reason why someone goes here is to lay claim to a contested set of ideas. Up until this point, if a person reading that article agreed with everything, then there would be some urge to accept the idea that science can’t refute faith claims. Expanding that to include a god-shaped exception to reality isn’t a giant step further.
The rest of the article goes on to discuss this different topic. That too, isn’t an accident. It drives the misplaced point home like a sledgehammer pounding the squarest peg into the roundest of holes.
What if the author remained on point?
To answer that, one would need a different article. Addressing the conflicts that science has with religion involves comparing what things people do know versus what things are claimed as fact in a religious structure. I’m familiar with Christianity, so I know where some of those comparisons should happen. Things like creation in seven days, two genetic bottlenecks of human civilization (Garden of Eden to Great Flood), and a common universal language are the ones I can think of off the top of my mind right now.
It is in the conflict of things asserted as fact where religion is tested by modern science. This is how many people first encounter conflicts with their faith. The world doesn’t behave as if a deity is in control of this thing that was promised. The choice is whether to investigate or find some way to make the conflict go away.
Why did I put all this effort into breaking down this article?
By now, I hope I’ve shown how some rhetorical conventions and tropes can get used to practically keep people believing, or at least convince them that they might want to start. Remember, if someone read this article and followed along with the whole thing, they’d have to conclude that there’s a fighting chance Yahweh is real. This makes it ministry, not debate.
And really, I’ve just scratched the surface on the broader subject of converting people or maintaining a person’s religious fealty. There are books and movies and handouts which go into selling the faith to people. Gaslighting them is just one method, though it shares some commonality with other tactics.
But for now, I will have to leave this at asking people to be mindful of when they read stuff that promotes the faith.