Recently a lot of people have been talking about the Ham/Nye Evolution vs. Creationism debate . I haven’t actually seen it yet so obviously I don’t have any comment on the debate itself.
There is another issue that should be addressed that is somewhat related however.Both before and after the debate there were a great many comments about whether it should happen at all.
There seem to be a lot of people saying that Nye shouldn’t have agreed to do it. The rationale seems to be that a real scientist agreeing to debate people like Ham validates or legitimizes them in some way. This seems to me a fundamentally flawed outlook.
Perhaps the disagreement with taking creationists like Ham seriously stems from a wrongheaded notion that they represent a small group of harmless kooks. Yet aside from the fact that you could characterize much of what they believe as kooky this assessment is sadly incorrect.
Some estimates have said that 1 in 10 people in the U.S are Young Earth Creationists. That’s 31 million people. With another one third of the population leaning toward literal creation if not wholly committed. These are staggering numbers. Huge swaths of the population of North America dismiss, deny or are ignorant of the scientific realities of our existence. These people are robbed of the truth of reality by a creation myth which even a basic understanding of physics, biology, geology, palaeontology or a host of other disciplines completely blows out of the water.
If the percentages given are accurate this is clearly not a small group. Nor are it’s effects harmless. Right now there are grown people walking around convinced of the fact that the earth is 6000 years old. This in spite of the fact that there are documented trees older than that growing at this very minute.
There are, as the map below (compiled by Slate Magazine) points out, thousands of schools in the United States that teach Creationism as part of their science curriculum regardless of the fact that they receive federal money. There are proud creationists serving in high ranking positions in government all over North America , including a U.S congressional panel on science and technology(!) There are text books which spread lies about the reality of the Loch Ness Monster in bids to discredit Evolution and that’s before we even get to the purposeful misunderstanding of what evolution is or how it works. Teaching children mythology in place of science is wrong, and it does them harm. Not only does it teach them that truth has no value but it also keeps them from learning the tools of discovering genuine truth, and denies them the knowledge and understanding necessary to compete and thrive in a world ever more dependant on science and technology.
Regardless of the popular movement to deny it the fact remains that our beliefs inform our actions, and our core beliefs all the more so. That being the case shouldn’t the things these people believe be discussed and dissected by as many actual experts as we can find? Shouldn’t we be delighted when people with the talent of making complex knowledge and facts approachable to lay people decide to explain why wrong ideas ARE wrong?
Personally I think if one kid is inspired to go find an out how something works it’s a win. Beyond that though as long as we hold any pretensions toward wisdom or respect for truth and what that battered and broken word is meant to mean we should raise our voices in support of those people who are out there battering at the wall of self imposed ignorance so many of our fellow primates have built around themselves. Without champions of reason from Nye and Dawkins to the science teacher who refuses to teach the bible as fact we will lose the struggle and truth, knowledge, exploration, and actual understanding will die in favour of the easy comforting lie.
Recently a powerful revelation came to me. I have comprehended a truth which has entirely changed my outlook on life. The blinding simplicity of it still shocks me. How I could have lived as long as I have, experienced all that I have and never opened myself up to the simple elegant reality I will never know. All that I do know is that I repent my ignorance absolutely and declare with joy and conviction that I have seen the light. I accept in my heart that 2+2=5!!
I know that some of you will have trouble accepting this wonderful truth. I myself struggled with it, blinded as I was by my closed mind and the limiting constraints of “reason” and “evidence” but I have come to see that we do not need to be tied by the narrow “scientific” perception of mathematics. We can choose to accept alternative arithmetical systems and free ourselves from the crushing yoke of rational testable procedure and universal numerical consensus. After a lifetime of casting about for meaning and understanding I know in my heart that I have finally found a truth worth committing myself to, and you can share in it’s glory as well!
My faith that 2+2=5 gives me the strength to face the day. It helps me through those hard times and shows me that anything is possible with enough faith. It makes me want to be a better person, and to help my fellow human beings see that they too can know the joys of Intuitive Calculation. It is the inspiration for my charity work and in time it will be the tradition of my family. Who do my beliefs hurt? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to think what I like regarding “mathematical truth”? What right does anyone have to tell me that 2+2 does not in fact equal 5?! I say they have no right at all!
I ask those of you who are open to the Fivist Truth to gather with me in the community of Numerical Intuition, and I call the non-believers who are open-minded and respectful of the beliefs of others to lend me your support. Please, write your representatives, speak up for the rights of Fivers like me and help me to make a more balanced and inclusive example in our schools. Why should my children, or any of our children, have to learn the lies of the “Fourers” exclusively? Is there not room for a more enlightened, broader understanding of Numeric Truth? Why shouldn’t all children be exposed to the debate? I demand that my point of view be granted equal weight with the competing numerical theory, after all it is just that a theory.
I am sure that some of you out there will want to deny my revelation. You’ll be quick to judge my truth by your limited understanding, maybe even going so far as to arrogantly toss up “equations” and “proofs” as though your “evidence” is somehow more valid than the feeling of warmth and meaning that the Truth of 2+2=5 gives me. Well, I do not want to live in a world where 2+2 must equal 4! How can anyone cope with such a coldly deterministic reality? Know now that I will not be misled again!
What arrogance you Fourists and your pet “scientists” display! After all science is forever changing, discovering new truths and amending outdated ideas. It is not as if you actually know anything at all! In time it may be discovered that in fact 2+2 does equal 5, and because the possibility exists, no matter how unlikely that possibility may be we must accept it as Truth, to do anything other is to be far too narrow minded and rigid in our thinking!
Please consider the Truth of 2+2=5, feel the joy of conviction freedfrom the shackles of basis and let go o f your biased “logical” prejudices.
Count not with your fingers, count with your heart.
There is a movement out there advocating the idea that the recent trend of school violence, and indeed the increase in violence in general can be directly tied to the law banning institutionalized prayer in schools. TV personalities have made the claim time and again and graphics and verse like the examples above have flooded the internet and continue spread this claim regardless of the fact that it is, as I’ll show, entirely groundless.
One of the most ridiculous aspects of this argument is the simple fact that it is NOT illegal to pray at school. There is no ban on holy books, not a single yarmulke or burkah has been burned, and no students have been searched for prayer beads and rosaries. All that the law in question states is that there can be no organized school mandated prayer. Even if it were not the law wouldn’t such a position be the only sensible one given the diversity of culture and outlook in schools today. It’s a law meant to recognize the fact that not everyone prays the same way, or to the same deity and indeed that not everyone prays. It’s a policy that removes one more division between children, one more opportunity for someone to be excluded.
Another point against this argument is one that shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. Quite simply put: prayer doesn’t stop bullets. To demonstrate this point consider the following examples:
– St. Pius X catholic high school Ottawa Ontario 1975. In spite of a lack of prayer ban a student killed 1 and injured 5 before turning his shotgun on himself.
– Oikios Christian University in California. 7 dead 3 injured in spite of what one has to believe were several heart felt prayers.
– in 2006 six an Amish schoolhouse was fired on. No deity came to the rescue of the 5 little girls that were killed or the 6 injured in spite of the famous piety of the Amish.
– a Sikh temple was the sight of the shooting of six temple goers in Wisconsin in 2012 regardless of the regular prayers featured there.
These are just a few examples to demonstrate that freedom to pray (which I remind you no one ever took away) doesn’t stop crazed gunmen.
Perhaps the people who spout these slogans and circulate these graphics are saying that more prayer in schools would lead people to act less violently. Let’s consider whether religious instruction or affiliation curtails violence.
As you read this right now there are gangs of devout Buddhists led by holy monks engaged in bloody fighting with what they would call “Muslim aggressors” throughout Asia.
Muslims, who pray 5 times a day by holy law, are involved in those same conflicts as well as conflicts in Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Europe and North America. Fundamentalist Christians, some of the most ardent proponents of prayer you’re likely to meet, are the same groups that bomb clinics, and lynch homosexuals.
It doesn’t seem as though prayer is dampening the violent impulses of people very much, and in each example I’ve chosen those likely to pray more than average. It would appear that in many cases the fervour that fuels their prayer is the very source that energizes their violence.
We’ve seen that prayer doesn’t protect one from violence, and it doesn’t stop people from being violent. Yet we’ve barely touched on the bucket of errors in this simplistic way of thinking.
It should be obvious to anyone who considers it that just because one thing follows another doesn’t mean that the first thing caused the second. This is a logical fallacy so old it has a Latin expression “post hoc ergo propter hoc” or “after a thing therefore because of a thing” by this reasoning the increase in violence in North America which has happened since the late 1950s can be as easily attributed to the addition of “in god we trust” on American currency as to the law against forced prayer.
The fact is human society has always been violent and it is usually at it’s usually at it’s most violent in the times and places where religion is unchecked and prayer is compulsory. Could it perhaps be the case that the increase in violence is the result of the fact that there are more weapons and more people in closer quarters to each other than at any other point in history?
I also consider it important to point out that prayer is out of place in school. Schools should be places of fact and knowledge where we prepare children to deal with the concerns of this world. There are more than enough temples and churches where anyone who wants to is more than free to educate their child on their theory about the next world.
In the end there is no good foundation for the belief that more prayer would lead to less violence. There is however every reason to believe that if studied the results would be the same as studies of the effect of prayer on health. Most of the time it has no effect, and sometimes it makes actually makes things worse.
I love stories like this. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s always hope regardless of upbringing. Thanks for sharing.
This past year I have experienced a lot of life changes. I figured it was time to write some of it all down. I feel like I should start with some background on me. For the sake of time and avoiding revealing too much, I will keep this somewhat brief.
I was born into a large fundamentalist Christian family. Overall it was a very loving and caring family, although we were not perfect. My younger years were much more strict. Girls were to wear dresses, have long hair, and taught to care for the family. I was homeschooled to avoid the worldly influences. I use the term “homeschooled” loosely. My mother, in my opinion, was very over worked. She had 7 children she was homeschooling along with all the house work and her duties as a pastor’s wife. I don’t know how she was able to do what she did…
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I like debate, I enjoy discussion, but in any debate on theology you’ll eventually come across some variation of “ No one really knows, and what does it matter anyway?” I find this particular point of view irritating and in need of a comprehensive answer, so here is my answer.
It matters because what we have here are two diametrically opposed systems of thought, both of which deal with the most important questions of human reality, and only one of which can be correct. The first system is one based on reasoned careful study of secular data such as history, physics, geology, paleontology and a host of other scientific disciplines which are themselves based on carefully gathered factual information which can be tested, proved or disproved and reproduced at will. This system tells us that the creation of the universe, our race, and all other species was a slow process of trial and error over trillions of years which ultimately culminated in a set of circumstances just right for our development and growth as a species.
The second system is based on a few texts written in an age when superstition supernaturalism and mysticism were rampant on the earth. This system requires that its adherents accept its teachings and principles absolutely, without the benefit of demonstrable facts, or evidence. It values obedience over exploration, acceptance of doctrine over critical reasoning and has throughout history taken the view that all truth comes from itself and no other source. It is a system committed to the suppression of facts which don’t conform to its stated truths. This system has, throughout human history suppressed, persecuted, and even murdered those who have proven, with hard evidence, the fact that their doctrines are incorrect.
If that weren’t enough, there is more than one variation of the second system. Each one absolutely is certain that it is the “one true faith” and so these various faiths war against each other as well as against the secular system. Often these are symbolic wars such as the war against contraception or the war against medical intervention, but just as often these conflicts are literal wars. Whether literal or symbolic the cost of these wars in both material and Human lives is shockingly, sickeningly high.
Why does it matter? Because in an age where we control weapons capable of demolishing whole cities, when we can control viruses of such lethality that they can kill tens of millions in a matter of days, we can not afford to look at the world through any lens but that of hard, proven fact. We cannot afford to have an electorate who believes that the prophesized end of days is close at hand and welcomes it. We cannot afford to have leaders who believe that their god is on their side and so they can do no wrong. In an age when our understanding of ourselves, our world, and the universe has reached heights undreamed of by any age before us we are beginning to have the ability to truly understand the miraculous scope and depth of the wonders of reality. Through our telescopes and microscopes we have the ability to witness wonders and truths which should relegate the posturing gods of the old books to insignificance. But rather than this being the case what we have is a world of religious moderates who are quick to distance themselves from the distasteful parts of their own literature, to separate themselves from the “radical” practitioners of their faiths (who more often than not are doing no more than holding true to a literal reading of those same texts) and instead what was once literal fact is transmuted into metaphor meant to be interpreted. “ Ok so we were wrong about that, but the rest is absolutely true.” or “ You can’t take it literally, it’s meant to be interpreted” become the common refrains of these moderates who hold to their beliefs more out of tradition or apathy than any real faith.
Why does it matter? Because followers of this second system demand the right to have their faith held up in our institutions of learning along side subjects such as math and science, as though they share a level of truth or value. Because whole generations of children are raised to believe that faith is more important than evidence, that if your faith and your reason come into conflict it is your reason that is at fault, that morality comes from faith and without faith there would be no morality. Ignored is the fact that many of the most heinous offences against morality in human history can be traced directly back to faith of one type or another.
Why does it matter? Because we have been ruled by fear and superstition for too long! Because the age of knowledge and reason so long sought by so many is upon us and it is no longer necessary to lean on the crutch of supernaturalism for support. It is important because the world is faced by real problems and god (allah, vishnu, thor etc.) is not going to save us. Science might save us. Reason might save us. A critical, thoughtful educated outlook on reality might save us, but only if we can put aside the antiquated ideas that limit and divide so many of us and concentrate on the simple secular truth that nothing is going to happen unless we make it happen.
True, no one really knows, but isn’t working toward discovery through study, the application of reason, the gathering and testing of observable fact a better, nobler and more productive use of our time and energy than clinging to outdated parables and social strictures because we fear a death we don’t understand or because we’ve fallen prey to the crippling belief that we are somehow incapable of anything glorious in and of ourselves? It’s time to reclaim the power we, somewhere along the line, ceded to some outside caregiver. That’s why it matters.
We’re being lied to. Our entire species is being repeatedly tricked, constantly misled and most of us are falling for it. We’re tricked into superstition, supernaturalism, and mysticism and not just by scientific ignorance, adherence to tradition or testimony of authority figures (well meaning or otherwise). The fact is that our own makeup betrays us. Some of the very evolutionary adaptations which have allowed our species to survive and thrive also leave us open to drawing false premises, accepting deceiving conclusions and following the leads of others in order to be accepted socially.
Research into how the brain works and why it works the way that it does has led to several theories about how religious thinking came to develop in the human mind. The most widely accepted outlook is that religious attitudes are a by-product of existing cognitive developments which serve other purposes. The “By-product outlook” suggests that a great many of the adaptations which our species evolved in order to survive life on the Serengeti actually combine to make us susceptible to ritual, superstition, mysticism, in short… religion.
Decoupled Cognition is a perfect example of a useful adaptation on which the “mind virus” of religion has piggybacked. This is our ability to think of something that happened in the past, or that will happen in the future, all while paying close attention to what is happening around us. We are uniquely adapted to evaluate the thoughts and feelings of others who are not directly in front of us. Decoupled Cognition is the key to social interaction. Imagine if you had to have another person in front of you in order to conceive of what might be happening in their mind! Social interaction as we understand it would be impossible. We all rehearse conversations; imagine the likely responses and others and posit possible outcomes. Our ability to implement a complex interaction with an unseen second party inside our own minds and completely independent of our external reality is key to our social abilities, but it is also a prerequisite for religious thought. Without it the whole enterprise collapses from conception.
Another essential mental development for our survival is what psychologists call Hyperactive Agency Detection Device or HADD. This mental development once served to keep us on our toes, to keep us mindful of the possibility of predators and wary of danger. HADD is the mechanism responsible for human tendency to perceive agency or intelligent intent where there is none. It’s why we mistake shadows for burglars or wonder who slammed the door before we consider that it might have been the wind, and in our animal past it was surely a valuable survival mechanism. After all it’s far better to jump at shadows and flee from the wind than risk the pouncing predator.
HADD allows for and even favors the interference of unseen intelligent agents. In other words we’re hardwired to see design where none exists. If you presuppose an unseen agent where there is none is it that far a leap to the idea that that agent is all-powerful, or that it will grant you wishes if asked? When this trait is combined with the mechanisms which provide our sensitivity to the detection of human-like forms and faces we can begin to see human forms almost anywhere from ghosts and apparitions, to Jesus appearing in food products the world over, The Man in the Moon, or a smiley face in punctuation marks.
Perhaps the most obvious cognitive adaptation that results in religious belief is the human need for attachment. As a species we crave community, acceptance, and fellowship. Neuroscientists studying the brain’s workings today believe that whole networks of neurons in our brains are dedicated to our need for attachment. Helpless children instinctively seek out a caregiver to help ensure their survival and when they grow the need for attachment manifests as romantic love ensuring the passing of genes and the survival of the species. It also takes place in other adult relationships. Attachment is, in fact, the basis of community.
Just as the attachment centers of our brains urge us to seek relationships with corporeal life forms religious people are attached to their deities. The fact is we never lose our urge to seek a caregiver and religions offer us a caregiver who will provide for all of our needs, love us unconditionally and forgive us any transgression. Most religions are designed to appeal strongly to the most primal and frightened parts of our brains. They offer us a community of like-minded individuals, a sense of safety and security and an all-powerful caregiver figure who will keep the predators at bay. The driving need for attachment is what makes the concept of religion so appealing to begin and also what makes it so difficult to leave.
I’ve only touched on a few of the aspects of our minds which allow for religious and supernatural thinking. There are a great many more adaptations which contribute to the human proclivity toward religion. There are a number of excellent sources out there for more information. I recommend starting with Dr. J. Anderson Thomson’s “why we believe in god(s)” it is a concise and very approachable book on the subject and will serve as an excellent primer. Understanding how our minds work, and why we’re susceptible to the faulty logic, fuzzy reasoning and backward tribalism that results in supernaturalism, mysticism and religious thought is key to fighting it. We grow through exploration, both of the world around us and perhaps more importantly – the world inside us.
Whenever a non-theist points out the less than stellar history of religion, whenever its past (or present) crimes and prejudices are mentioned it’s defenders and followers tend to respond with objections like “Well I’ve never tortured anyone!” or “I don’t know anyone who’s for killing homosexuals!” These apologists act as though their personal enlightenment of attitude somehow cleanses their faith of its responsibility for and history of atrocity, bigotry, prejudice, purposeful spreading of misinformation, and the fostering of ignorance.
The fact of the matter is that most religions, and certainly all of the Abrahamic faiths, contain in their holiest and most central texts specific injunctions to do violence, spread hatred, foster division. The core teachings of these religions justify and even demand the judgement, segregation and often persecution of those who do not believe and practice in exactly the same way as everyone else. Any objective reading of the three main texts of the Abrahamic faiths bares this fact out.
The enlightened attitude of the modern moderate theist cannot cleanse their faiths of the evils done at their insistence and in their names because regardless of the intellectual gymnastics used to reinterpret the teachings over the centuries the teachings haven’t changed. The modern moderations in attitude that make the continual reinterpretation and apologetics necessary are not a result of the graces and glories of faith but rather they are the result of the advancement of secular morality, the evolution of societal ethics. As we grow as people our morality and attitudes evolve our laws advance and society grows, and while all of this happens religion remains unapologetically unchanged.
As an example, was it the teachings of Christ or Muhammad that taught us the evils of slavery? No, in fact neither holy personage seems to have had any problem with the practice at all. Did the bible or the quran declare women the equal of men in society and grant them equal protections under the law? No of course not, in fact both texts demand precisely the opposite treatment for women. Yet today slavery is almost universally viewed as an abomination and all modern moral systems recognize the female as the equal of her male counterpart. It was secular lawmakers and society as a whole who banded together to demand equality for all people, and in the cases of both slavery and sexual equality they were (and in some cases still are) adamantly, and sometimes violently, opposed by the followers of the world’s three largest and most powerful religions.
The primary problem with the outlook of the modern moderate theist is this: it is not possible to be a moderate theist without dismissing or ignoring certain passages and ideas of their faith. One cannot honestly profess to believe in the teachings of the bible and simultaneously approve of gay rights. Just as it is not possible to honestly believe that the Quran is the perfect word and will of god while deploring the killing of the infidel and championing the equality of women. In each case the propositions are mutually exclusive. If you honestly believe the bible is the manual for human morality then homosexuality is actually demonstrably a purposeful evil that is worthy of a grizzly death. If that aspect of the teachings is unworthy of devotion what makes the rest of it better, and if the moral standard comes from the book itself how are you determining which parts of that book to follow?
The attitude of the modern moderate theist seems to require either an atmosphere of purposeful ignorance as to what their faith entails or an environment of institutionalized lack of conviction which allows them to dismiss those teachings they find unpleasant while clinging to the remainder as absolute Truth.
To defend religion by saying “Well I’ve never stoned a homosexual!” or “I’ve never tortured anyone is roughly the same as a Clansman who says “I only belong for the sense of community, I’m not into all that cross burning stuff.” Or “You can’t judge us all! I’ve never lynched anyone!” A moderate theist acts as a collaborator in the crimes and prejudices of their fundamentalist cousins. By using their labels, displaying their emblems or defending their beliefs they give tacit approval to their chosen group’s stated beliefs, all of them. As well they give power and cover to the fundamentalists they profess to deplore. It is the droves of moderate theists who give the fundamentalists their power, it’s the unthinking devotion to these outdated traditions by otherwise modern intelligent people that makes it impossible to deal with the root of the problem of fundamentalism.
We can only profit from the discarding of the outdated taboos, prejudices and rituals of long dead ancient cultures that enslave so many of us even today. We have surpassed the teachings of the ancient prophets in every area from our knowledge of the world and the wider universe to the morals and ethics which guide our society. The fact is that the strictures and biases of these ancient mythologies only survive through ignorance, prejudice and most often apathy.
So Mr. Moderate Believer it’s true you probably haven’t stoned a rape victim or bombed an abortion clinic. You’ve probably never dragged a family from their home and killed them because of how or whom they worship but you DO support and defend a system of thinking that not only allows but demands these things. To pretend that the violence, hatred, and division that riddle the history of theism are a perversion of religion is to betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the specific demands of faith. To cling to the form and ritual of faith and dismiss the substance is worse than hypocrisy, it is to smile delightedly at the pretty colours of the flames while a fire consumes your house.
Rejoice benighted savages
Raise your voices loud in song.
We’ve come to tell you of our god
and how your lives are wrong.
Give thanks and pay us homage
Do us service ,raise us high
We are the voices of creation
Only we know what happens when you die.
You say you’ve got your own gods?
A history and tradition all your own?
You’ve been bewitched by demons!
And without us you’d never have known!
We’ll save your souls and make you right
If you’ll do exactly as we say
Dress and speak and act as we
And pray always as we pray.
Repent of your many blasphemies
Know your worth is less than none
Beg my god for mercy evermore
Or your torment is never done.
My god is a god of mercy
He’ll save you from your sinful mire
But if you do not submit to him
He will punish you with fire.
We will bring you peace and salvation
And the love of our living lord.
We’re going to give you Jesus
Either with the book or with the sword!
“Do you have anything positive to add? You don’t like god or religion or theism, we get it. Where is your proposal for fostering peace and unity? How does your belief encourage acceptance and connection with our fellow humans? Where are the inclusive ideas that make Atheism better for everyone?”
The above is me paraphrasing something I read recently, though it wasn’t new or unique and I’ve read or heard many versions over the years. It is something Anti-theists, outspoken atheists and non-theists hear a lot of. The implication that we’re cold angry people mad at the world and content to kick sand out of spite is not an uncommon viewpoint. Unfortunately there are those Atheists out there that actually do fit this view. I’d say however that by and large this depiction of atheists and especially activist atheists is an overly simplistic falsehood maintained to marginalize and dismiss an uncomfortable point of view.
It’s true, I don’t like the ideas of god, religion or theism, but as for “we get it” it doesn’t seem as though you do. I don’t take this stance to rebel or offend. It’s not because I’m an anarchist or due to my corrupted or absent morals, and it certainly isn’t because I imagine myself smarter or in any way superior to the believer. The considerations that make me an atheist are numerous and varied but the primary drive of my anti-theism is the very fact that religion, and indeed all faith, divides, deludes excludes and insulates. I am an atheist because I seek those virtues listed above, and because history demonstrates that faith and religion are the single greatest barriers to acceptance, unity and education that our species has ever faced.
I reject any idea that requires the suspension (or compartmentalization) of critical thought. I distrust any system that can look down on reason as a lesser thing than assertion or faith. I oppose any view which has the inherent ability to allow it’s adherents to pretend that there is some inferiority between the genders, or asserts that a person’s sexual preference marks them out as evil or damaged. Perhaps most importantly I recognize that to decry these acts and attitudes while supporting belief systems that promote and profess them is hypocrisy.
How does atheism promote unity and acceptance you ask? It doesn’t, not on its own anyway. Atheism is a gateway, it’s the path to the acceptance of the fact that there’s no magic secret, no ghost in the machine. At its finest, in my opinion, Atheism should lead to the twin truths of Humanism and Rationalism. It should lead a person to understand that only through the acceptance of evidence, the cultivation of knowledge and the taking of considered and rational action can anything of worth actually be accomplished.
Quite simply acceptance and inclusion are encouraged by accepting responsibility for ourselves and our world and by levelling the playing field, making the criteria for “truth” and “right” the same for everyone. Humanism shows us that we are the architects of our reality; that change, reform, and salvation must come not from some outside source but from ourselves. Rationalism requires that we open ourselves to accepting reason and science as our guides. By these methods we are more likely to take proactive steps, and come to more uniform and consistent conclusions. Thus we are more in control of our circumstances and more united ideologically. By holding to testable, verifiable truth rather than declared (and utterly subjective) divine revelation, we declare ourselves open to having our views challenged and our conclusions falsified. These ideals can only lead to a more elevated group consciousness and a more cooperative, peaceful coexistence with our fellow humans. When we base our views on reason rather than faith it helps us to see the world for what it is, it allows us to better match our solutions to the actual world.
There are those who advocate pretending beliefs don’t matter or that all opinions and ideas are equally valid and plausible. This is their answer for and guiding our species into the future, to just let anyone think whatever they like and to pretend that beliefs don’t have consequences. It seems to me however that the best way to unite, uplift and heal our species, and our world is to judge our ideas, our beliefs and our actions by the light of fact and the criteria of reason and commonsense.
There’s a term that myself and some others have recently begun using: “Fundamentalist Moderate” (or FunMod for short.) I mentioned them in my last article “Definition Swap” but I see so much of this kind of thinking that I feel they and their attitudes warrant a more thorough exploration. A FunMod can identify as either a theist or a non-theist but in practice they’re neither. Their concern is with a radicalized form of moderation that declares that all experience and truth are subjective. They believe that every viewpoint is valid, but more than that they assert that every viewpoint is equally as valid as every other.
Consider what that outlook really means, ask yourself this: are the hollow earth theory and the theory of gravity equally valid propositions? Should evolution and faith healing be given equal weight? Are crystal therapy and conventional medicine on the same level of veracity? A position based on evidence, logic, and probability is not the equal of one based solely on subjective wishes or fanciful interpretations of a handful of old books, or on anyone’s personal relationship with the universe. Truth is only true if you can verify it, if you can point to some objective reason why it’s true.
These people defend all religious belief and cultural attitudes as harmless, and declare that it is actions, not beliefs that should be condemned. As an example, they would say that the suicide bomber who detonates himself in the name of Allah is solely to blame for the destruction he causes, that he has perverted the spirit of the religion. Of course you would have to ignore the specific injunctions to do violence and the prescribed rewards for doing so in the religion’s text to take that position, but these Fundamentalist Moderates don’t seem to have any problem with that.
They’ve constructed an artificial boundary between belief and action as though our thoughts do not inform our behaviours. The fact of the matter is that what we think effects what we do. If you believed that your actions were justified, and even mandated by what you consider the ultimate authority what actions wouldn’t you take? Isn’t it clear that the belief, if it is genuine, must result in action, or at least (albeit often tacit) support of that action? How can anyone pretend that that isn’t a consideration?
The FunMods will chorus “Blame the person not the belief” but which person do you blame? Do you blame just the bomber, or the bomber and his imam? Do you blame the culture that produces them, or the religion that dictates the form of that culture? Would that suicide bomber have detonated himself if he hadn’t been indoctrinated for years with stories of paradise and sacrifice, of god and his demands for complete faith and global conquest? Maybe he would have. I don’t think so, but regardless we can agree on the fact that the largest group of suicide bombers are religious can’t we? Religion not only is the motivation it demands to be recognized as the motivation and purpose for everything. To pretend otherwise is to close your eyes to an unpleasant truth because you don’t like it.
To me this way of thinking is at least as dangerous as fundamentalist theism. Why dangerous you ask? The answer is: because superficially this kind of relativistic thinking sounds inclusive, high minded, and politically correct. It comes across as open-minded, peaceful, and it removes all need for conflict. In short it’s the kind of doctrine that people will be quick to adopt without thinking through all of its consequences. The simple fact is if you declare all truth subjective you remove any mechanism for debate or reform and destroy any incentive to study or learn. What’s more, you make study and learning all but impossible, just as you make all science, engineering and construction impossible. After all under this type of thinking who is to say that a foot is really twelve inches? Or that 2+2 isn’t 5?
The fact that these people don’t or won’t see the dangers inherent in religious thinking is a matter of serious concern in my opinion, yet it’s not the only one. Another concern is that thought processes matter. Why we think things is important, the “how”s of arriving at truth are important. If you can accept that every proposition is valid you lack the ability to make substantive judgements. If you can claim that evolution and creationism, for instance, are equally valid you lack the ability to reason logically. A growth in this kind of thinking bodes poorly for the future regardless of which myth system is dominant.
The fundamentalist theist declares that their faith is the one and only truth, that their holy doctrine are the blueprint for right living and that deviating from that truth is sin and blasphemy punishable in various ways. They declare that their truth is absolutely the only truth. In their own way the FunMod is worse, they declare that there IS no truth, that truth is illusion and only opinion has any meaning.
It is vital for people to recognize that there are objective truths and it can be dangerous to pretend there are not. Objective truths are the real, meaningful, satisfying truths which let us grow, invent and expand ourselves. They’re the truths that lead to knowledge, understanding, and true wisdom. That’s not to say that subjective truth doesn’t have its role to play. In fact, Subjective truth may be the seat of individuality and perhaps even creativity I suppose but Objective truth is the throne of reason, the domain of science, it safeguards us from baseless assertion and provides a touchstone which unites us all.
Be wary of any viewpoint that tries so hard to be inclusive that it includes even the most inane of concepts. Do not become so enamoured of tolerance that you tolerate willful blindness and purposeful obfuscation. Don’t pretend to believe that atrocity and hatred is just a misunderstood cultural expression or that it’s you who’s in the wrong when you judge it evil to oppress your own people because of their sex. Don’t pretend you don’t know there’s a truth just because some people are offended by it. Have the courage to recognize that your feelings don’t define existence, and humbly approach reality on its terms and you’ll begin to learn how and why things really work.