Sunday, August 19, 2007

Those Stubborn Atheists

Sure, the maxim “There are no atheists in foxholes” is offensive to atheists; it implies that faith is the default state to which the human mind reverts in times of crisis, that it takes a conscious act of stubbornness to remain “godless.”

But haven’t atheists created this situation themselves? Defining one’s religious beliefs by what one doesn’t believe is no belief at all. Which is the point. But by keeping the conversation focused on religion, the holy ghost, as it were, always lurks.

There was a campaign a while back to remedy this by organizing this surly group of unbelievers and renaming them The Brights. Arch atheist Richard Dawkins even joined in:
The noun bright was coined in March [2003] by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell of Sacramento, California. In April, I heard them give a presentation on the new word in Florida, and they launched soon after. The new meme was almost immediately given a boost by two enthusiastic articles in large-circulation newspapers. On June 21, I wrote "the future looks bright" for the Guardian, one of Britain's leading national dailies. And on July 12, the distinguished philosopher Daniel Dennett followed up with "the bright stuff" for The New York Times op-ed page.
But has it really caught on? It’s a dumb name, that’s the first problem. But the second problem is that people like Dawkins frame the issue as fundamentalists: we’re right they’re wrong, and everything they do is killing us all. He’s anti-religion, and it gets tough after a while to maintain what is only a position on one issue as an entire platform. Defining one’s essence by what you don’t believe leaves no room for what you do believe. Which in this case would be science. And if science is the true default, as I know Dawkins believes, then why keep talking about religion so much? It plays into the whole premise that religiosity is our natural state.


Anonymous Sarah said...

How exactly is one supposed to discuss atheism without referencing religion? Certainly you can argue that when atheists say they don't believe in God, what they're really saying is that they believe in facts, i.e. science. But that's not necessarily true--they could not believe in God because they believe that the Tralfamadorians are controlling all aspects of life on Earth. Whether science or aliens, though, what atheists do believe is a different conversation.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to take issue with you on this one, boss. In your previous post, you wrote "religion and science aren't two sides of the same conversation". Yet, you've called Dawkins' motives into question because he refuses to frame the issue this way ("Defining one’s essence by what you don’t believe leaves no room for what you do believe. Which in this case would be science.")

What Dawkins and others are trying to do is point out that any sort of faith-based belief system, whether dealing with the supernatural or not, runs counter to the ways in which humans generally explore their world: through direct inspection of what our senses tell us is so. Science, as you well know, is not a system of beliefs but a method of exploration. Is it flawless? Of course not, but it's the best we've come up with as yet. And, like any theory, if it's determined to be flawed, it can be modified or replaced with a better method.

As such, I'd say that atheism is not non-belief or simply a rejection of religion, but a very rational approach to looking at the world. If there is no proof, why should anyone take something seriously?

If I told you I could fly, the first thing you'd say would be, "bullshit" (which is "prove it" in the parlance of our times). That makes you a rationalist, too - if you don't extend that sort of thinking to everything else in your life, you're the one who has to square that particular inconsistency.

Likewise, when someone tells me I'm going to hell if I don't accept jeebus, guess what I'm going to give them in response?


4:52 PM  

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