Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rational Theism (Irony Alert)

So, fellow atheist blogger, Drazzel, got me thinking once again about something that baffles me over and over and over. In his post, he relates a story about a friend who called him a "fundamental atheist." Drazzel rightfully had difficulty even comprehending what that could possibly mean.

As I said, this got me rethinking an old question—why do theists continually try to equate atheists with themselves in debates?

It's hard for me to make sense of this (as it is with most of the arguments coming from that side). I can't go a week without hearing "fundamentalist atheist," or "atheism is a religion," or "belief in [insert scientific theory here] takes a greater leap of faith than theism" (since I do accept rational scientific theories such as the big bang and evolution by means of natural selection, as do most atheists, I usually ignore the fact that being an atheist doesn't make someone a Darwinist or any other kind of "ist").

What in gods' names are they thinking? You would never hear an atheist claim that theism takes just as much rational thought as atheism, or that theism is a science.

What could possibly be beneficial about projecting your own image onto your opponent? Assuming of course that you believe your position is superior.

Let's take these one by one, shall we?

• Fundamentalist Atheist
Perhaps this is a result of confusing "outspoken" with "fundamentalist." I do think it would be very hard to be a fundamentalist about not believing something. Fundamentalism takes its beliefs as truth, regardless of what the evidence says.

Is it possible to be a fundamentalist Darwinist? Maybe, but I doubt there are very many of those. But is it possible to be a fundamentalist atheist? I don't think so. If everyone around you believed that invisible unicorns controlled the traffic signals, you might scream your head off telling them how crazy they are. I don't think this would make you a fundamentalist.

I should find it difficult to put it any better than Richard Dawkins answering this very charge:

Do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

• Atheism is a Religion:
This one is just silly. Sure, religion can be defined many ways, but no coherent definition of religion could ever include atheism.

If you define religion as somewhere along the lines of "a group of people who share a similar worldview or philosophy," then you would have to include political parties and most fan clubs. I would contest that a worldview is made up of beliefs, not the lack of a particular belief. If this definition is expanded to include people who share a lack of a belief, then we are all part of the A-leprechaunism religion. This definition is not coherent.

Most would define religion to require a shared belief, and beyond that, a supernatural one.

There's a saying we have, "atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."

• It Takes a Greater Leap of Faith to Believe in Evolution
... or the big bang, etc., etc. Really? It takes faith to accept scientific facts? I don't see how.

These are the same people who admit to having faith as the core of their very being. Now they want to assert that they, the faith-heads, can't match the faith of science. Does this strike anyone else as a bit crooked?

Science is a tool—the best and only tool we have for gaining knowledge about the world around us. When the evidence leads to a logical conclusion, it does not take faith to accept it. If new evidence shows the previous conclusion to be false, science compels us dismiss it. This is what science is.

Faith would require us to persist in our erroneous beliefs, even in the face of such evidence. This is not science.

Show us a better theory supported by evidence to explain the complexity of life on this planet, and we will abandon evolution. Show us the evidence to that leads to a better explanation of the universe's beginning moments and away goes the big bang theory.

Science is built upon doubt and skepticism and argument. There are many things in science that are debated every day, fueling scientists to find the evidence that provides the best explanation. Even the demise of our friendly bird-like dinosaurs is still debated in scientific circles; the fact that dinosaurs kicked the collective bucket long before the first humans primates started walking around is not. When enough evidence is gathered to be utterly overwhelming, and enough peer-review is completed, we accept these things. Like relativity and plate tectonics and evolution.

As Christopher Hitchens so eloquently wrote in God is not Great (admittedly he is not a scientist, but I think his words apply):
Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.

Forgive me if I've strayed from my original point, which is that if theists feel they have a stronger position, they should be contrasting rather than comparing themselves with atheists. Of course, I suppose it is possible that those who do this actually realize their position is weaker; bringing us to their level might be an attempt make us look as silly as they know they already do.

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