Gardner, for those who don't know, is one of the founding members of CSICOP and the author of such skeptical works as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Confessions of a Psychic (an expose of Uri Geller).
Most members of CSICOP and the anti-pseudoscience movement in general identify as atheists or agnostics, so when I read that Gardner believed in God, I wanted to know more. His rationale? Credo consolens - I believe because it is consoling.
I got a copy of his Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and read the essays that had to do with religion. I no argument that went beyond the simple fideism mentioned by Shermer and in an online interview I had found. He says he has much sympathy with Bertrand Russell’s lecture “Why I am not a Christian.” He says we cannot know why there is evil in the world. In one particularly dramatic passage, he declares:
Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything! To a rational mind the world looks like world without God. It looks like a world with no hope for another life. To think otherwise, to believe in spite of appearances, is surely a kind of madness.Even more striking was the chapter “Prayer: Why I Do Not Think It Foolish.” This was totally unexpected. Gardner was a critic of things like parapsychology.
But once again, perfect fideism is maintained. There is no way to establish the effectiveness of prayer on evidence, he says, and if we did, it would just become another element of the natural world.
I must say I cannot fathom Gardner’s position, but I have a hard time advancing criticism not advanced by Gardner himself, and feel no great urge to. Gardner is no fundamentalist, he has been a critic of such movements as "creation science," and does not even label himself a liberal member of any traditional religion.
I wonder if fundamentalism is possible in such a pure fideist. When one admits that one believes on faith alone, it is hard to believe in eternal perdition for those who disagree, and similarly hard to believe that one’s ideas must be forced into public school science classrooms.
Then, however, I think of Ken Ham. Prominently featured on his website is an essay titled
Creation: 'Where's the proof?' in which he more or less declares that the issue cannot be decided on evidence. How different is this from Gardner's postion?
The difference is that with Ken Ham and his cohorts, this fideism is intermixed with a belief that their claims can be proven. The entire rest of the site it dedicated to pretending to do so. I think, then, that the problem occurs when people refuse to make up their minds on whether they believe on faith or evidence and reason. When this happens, they can put forth various arguments when they want to make life difficult for others but fall back on faith when these arguments fail, only to rebound the next day, claiming they can prove their view is the right one.
I will not, therefore, spend my time denouncing a belief on faith, at least until I see evidence contradicting the above paragraph. However, to those who oscillate between faith and argument, I must say this: please make up your minds!