Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I like Richard Dawkins and P. J. Meyers and "radical" atheists in general

This was the subject of disagreement that led to my parting of the ways with the Enmasse Discussion Board. I'm an atheist. I don't know what the source of all reality and all existence is. The source of it all is unknowable. But the "God" or "gods" that human beings have invented to account for it are doubtlessly too crude, simplistic and incoherent to solve the riddle. This is because they are, as I said, invented or made-up. Being invented things without any real substance of their own, they contain many flaws. Furthermore, they cover for their inconsistencies and incoherence by insinuating to their followers that to challenge them is a sign of blasphemy and that to break from them is to ensure an eternity of personal torment.

Now, while some people are capable of putting things into perspective, and they can simultaneously compartmentalize their faith as something that requires an hour of their attention on Sunday mornings while at the same time insisting that it has all the answers to life and guides their conduct at all times, other people take concepts such as "revealed TRUTH" and "omnipotent, all-seeing, all-righteous GOD" seriously and become fanatical fundamentalists.

Personally, I don't know which version of religiosity I find more distasteful. The fundamentalists who follow their religions to their "logical" conclusions, or the hypocrites who use it as a comforter during times of stress or as an excuse to engage in some particular form of prejudice (homophobia, sexism, or whatever) that appeals to them.

Yes, yes, I know. Some people actually use their minds when it comes to religion. They discard obvious contradictions, cultural anachronisms, the prejudiced detritus of the early believers, etc., and they hold on to what they imagine is the core of their faith, that is eternal in the face of growing scientific knowledge and rational thinking. But even here I would argue, their "core beliefs" remain faith-based. Super-skeptic David Hume said that even our belief that the sun will rise in the morning or that the billiard balls hit with the cue ball will be impacted by the force of its impact, and I agree with him. The difference is that unless we're prepared to say that everything is an illusion, we can say that we can test our faith in things like the sun's rising or the physics of billiard balls, whereas faith in an unseen God cannot be verified. The "core-beliefs" of these admirable religious peoples are unverifiable because they aren't true. They're based on imaginary creatures invented centuries ago by human beings struggling to makes sense of the incomprehensible.

Most religious activity doesn't fall into the admirable sort anyway. Very few people are genuine saints who practice the good parts of their religions' ethical codes while ignoring their nutso ones and generally living their faith. Most people are either lazy-minded pseudo believers or their blinkered fanatics. And it's in this capacity that religion does so much harm while being unnecessary for doing good. Since one does not need to believe in a religion in order to be a moral person, the good that religion does achieve doesn't require religion.

That's why I like Richard Dawkins, P. J. Meyers and other angry atheists. They see the uselessness of religion at even the best of times, combined with its overall negative influences (bigotry, hatred, oppression) and, most importantly, its incoherence and immunity to rational argument, and they [GASP! HORRORS!] write books and give lectures saying that we should voluntarily abandon religious thinking and leave it behind. More than this though, these radical, angry atheists attempt to use laws designed to prevent one religion from imposing itself upon others through the power of the state, to circumscribe the indulgence of religious ideas anywhere within the public realm.

Now, two absolute geniuses on Enmasse, "RonB" and "agent smith" attempted to "debate" with me on this topic. Their points were basically as follows:

1. "You shouldn't say that all religious people are stupid because some very intelligent people are religious."

It didn't matter how many times I explained that I wasn't saying that all religious people are stupid, this was resorted to over and over again. "Religions are invented" does not equal "Religious people are morons."

2.   "Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., are just as intolerant, just as fanatical as the religious who they criticize."

Yes. And because I walk upright and my legs are bigger than my arms, I'm a tyrannosaurous-rex. Religious thinking is not scientific thinking. Religious thinking is not rational thinking. Religious thinking is magical, faith-based, often internally contradictory thinking. Finally, let's recall that neither Dawkins, nor Hitchens, nor P. J. Meyers is talking about using the power of the state to compel the abandonment of religion. Nor are they threatening any cowed followers with eternal torment or real-world tortures to keep them in line the way religions did and still do. To repeat: Religious belief causes a lot of genuine pain and suffering and all the good that it does can be achieved without it.

3. "If you believe all religions are bullshit you are automatically a racist or a Western cultural imperialist because numerous non-European cultures believe in religions."

This was a favourite cheap-shot of "RonB's." The dunce failed to see that attacking a universal malaise automatically ruled it out as culturally specific. And, furthermore, rationality isn't a European trait. Now, to say THAT would be to engage in racism. But all people are capable of rational thought. Dawkins, et al. are asking all people to apply rational thinking TO religion.

4. "Science will never have all the answers."

Never said that it would. Doesn't validate religion.

5. "Science is just as susceptible to irrationality and delusion as anything else."

Science is a human construct, just like religion. But it has a different foundation. Let's try a little thought experiment. Medical science claims to have the power to treat some people's cancer. So do advocates of faith-healing and prayer. What are the comparable results of these two treatments? And on and on it goes.

6. "Oppression is not only the product of religions. Religion doesn't create oppression. These are flaws in our human nature."

This is true. But it's not an argument for religion. Religion is devilishly good at convincing people that their prejudices are good and true and validated by God. And, if you're going to let religion off the hook for its racism and misogyny and oppressiveness, why not let capitalism or fascism or authoritarian communism off the hook as well? "We'll always have these character flaws, therefore we should ignore ways of thinking that cement them as eternal virtues", ... is that it? Or do the fools who speak such nonsense imagine that they're saying something smarter?

I could go on, but I think that I've blogged, and now I have work to do.


b_nichol said...

I'm sure Paul Zachary would agree with your post, although I'm even more sure that he would prefer you spell his name correctly:
PZ Myers

thwap said...

You have a history of doing that to me.

bcwaterboy said...

I have but a simple line for religion: gap filling does not legitimacy make. To me, that's essentially all religion has ever done and continues to do to this day, whatever is unexplained, we revert to the man-made notion of a "god". The most blatant and ignorant of these claims come from those who speak for god whether that god loves or god hates, means essentially the same thing. Too bad we won't live to see the day of religion's extinction.

thwap said...

BC waterboy,

That's something I tried desperately to communicate to those incoherent defenders of religion.

Religion was created to explain things and the universe is still unexplainable. As such, religion doesn't reflect the stupidity of humanity so much as its incapacities. We didn't have clue, but we used brains as sophisticated as the ones we have now to do what we can to make sense of it.

And, you're right: Anyone who claims to speak for an imaginary, omnipotent being either has a pretty mercenary agenda, or they have a few screws loose.