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« Student Body: Shamed By Nerds | Main | Question O' The Issue: Replacing Dave »


Michael Hughes

"But atheists don't believe god doesn't exist (this would also be an act of faith) , they simply don't see any verifiable, quantifiable evidence to suggest a god exists."

That's a fine definition, but other atheists would disagree—a quick look at wikipedia shows the enormous diversity of thought among various atheist ideologies. Atheism is often a rejection of the existence of God/gods, and, in some cases, it is espoused very vocally by those who want to stamp out what they see as illogical folly among those who believe in God/gods. I think those atheists are the ones who rankle some people, and not just religious or spiritual people.

I find myself with the vocal, activist "new atheists" when it comes to matters of public policy and separation of church and state, the teaching of creationism, etc. Where I part ways is in the depiction of all spiritual beliefs and religions as dangerous folly. There are scientifically demonstrable benefits (maybe evolutionary benefits) to having some sort of spiritual or religious beliefs—people with such beliefs tend to be happier and more well-adjusted (even if what they believe is unprovable or folly). It's clear that humans have a predilection for spiritual expression and beliefs, as such beliefs have existed as far back in time as we have. Maybe it's because such beliefs are evolutionarily advantageous.

A big problem I have with some of the more vocal activist atheists is their ideological fundamentalism when it comes to science, and the atheistic embrace of "skepticism." Just the other day I got into a Twitter discussion with the Merseyside Skeptics when they tweeted a desire to ban books on "woo" (mostly alternative health) from their public library. I would imagine you would agree that book banning in any form is antithetical to freedom of expression. I asked, for instance, how someone studying "woo" (god I hate that word) would be able to do so if the primary material was banned. They didn't answer.

Some atheists in the hard sciences believe humans are nothing more than puppets made of meat who react as programmed by our genetics and we have no free will. The idea that science is the be-all and end-all of knowledge is scientism, an ideology with all sorts of silly ramifications. I regularly get into discussions with "skeptic" atheists who insist that *nothing* can be understood as true or logical unless it has been tested in a double-blind, placebo controlled laboratory setting. Which is absurd on a number of levels.

I'm all for atheism, and activist atheism when it comes to public policy and the strict separation of church and state. Atheist activism is needed in places where atheists are discriminated against and where Bible-thumping fundies rule public opinion. But what I find troubling among the new atheists (they use that term) is their crusade against anything that vaguely smacks of the irrational. Dawkins famously expressed his worry that kids reading Harry Potter would lose their rationality and that a diet of science books and "realistic" books was better than reading fantasy. There is a serious imbalance evident in those kinds of remarks.

The other issue that bothers me is the new atheist attacks on religion that come from perspectives that are completely uninformed about the history and philosophy of religion and spirituality. Hitchens was particularly loose and sloppy in his critiques of religion. A lot of these guys are evolutionary biologists and they have never studied religion, which is a huge, complex subject with a history that extends to the paleolithic. Yet to listen to Hitchens (or comedians like Bill Maher) you'd think all religious people are fundamentalist Christians or Islamic suicide bombers. They go for the low-hanging fruit and ignore more intellectually complex religious ideas, thinkers, and history.

Long story short: Atheism is good for society, but there are valid and reasonable critiques of the behaviors, beliefs, and statements of some of the more vocal atheists. Many atheists are behaving in ways that alienate people who might otherwise be open to their arguments.

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