I look good in stripes...

I have recently been involved in a discussion on Facebook about "hateful atheism," which has led to some interesting conversations with friends off-line as well. I tend to find the hardline arguments on both sides to be pretty absurd, so lately I've been taking on the role of "referee." In this capacity, I have noticed that the two sides make frequent use of non sequiturs ("Illegal Procedure, Theists - 5 yard penalty..."). Another favorite illegal argument is the ad hominem attack on the previous poster ("Unnecessary Roughness, Atheists - declined, the play stands.")

What is most fascinating to me, however, is how often they use the very same arguments. For example:

"I am saving them from X!"
In this case, X could be hell, or it could be irrationality. Both camps assert that their agenda is based in concern for the other. To both, I have to say, "no one believes you." The hardest fighters in each camp seem to be motivated mostly by dislike of the other side. I will admit that I find the "holier-than-thou" Christian pretty irritating, but no more so than the "more-logical-than-thou" atheist. Be honest folks - you don't like people who differ from you, because you are convinced your position is correct.

"I am sick of being pushed around by them!"
Both sides make some pretty ludicrous arguments about how oppressed they are. Christians; there is no war on Christmas. It's the largest, most universally observed holiday in the world - get over yourselves. Atheists; Christianity is not putting an end to science, reason, or logic. They are alive and well, and they have more impact on daily life now than they ever have - get over yourselves.

"But their ideology is dangerous!"
Yes - Religion has spawned wars and witch hunts and abuse... and science and reason continue to give us bigger and better ways to kill each other and destroy our health and that of the planet. Just about every ideology worthy of the title is guilty of something shitty, past or present. Let the ideology that is without a skeleton or 20 in its closet cast the first stone.

Now, if both sides of a given dispute are using the same arguments, it might indicate that they have other things in common. I think the commonality here is faith. No atheist wants to discuss it, but it is just as difficult to categorically prove that god doesn't exist as it is to prove that he does. Certainly, they can show that it is very unlikely that such a being exists, but improbability is not proof when you are dealing with a universe that is believed to be infinite (or a finite local universe within a larger megauniverse which is infinite in nature, if you're really into this sort of thing...). Just as theists take it on faith that there is a god, atheists have faith in his absence. To the atheist who argues that at least his belief is bolstered by logic and the scientific method, the theist will reply that his belief is based on his own experiences of the holy spirit or whatever he choses to call it. Regardless of the support, these are cases of belief, not certainty. Instead of these futile attempts to convince the other side, we could talk about ways that theists and atheists and everyone in between could coexist more smoothly. But then there would be no need for a ref - what fun is that?

5 comments:

Cerus said...

First, the infinite or finite nature of the universe is still the topic of much discussion. What we can see appears to indicate an infinite universe, but we may not be able to measure the boundaries yet. Being kind of nitpicky there, but it's the fun of the universe.

Also, I want to take on your characterization of the scientific method.
It's true that science and "reason" give us bigger and better ways to kill each other, but nowhere is it written that that is necessitated. They're tools which can be used for good or bad. Yes there are consequences, there always are. We could be living in a world with short pointy sticks and so on, instead of all this tech that helps kill people in large quantities, but we'd still "reason" - there's a whole magazine which shows that this term can be abused- ways to be killing each other in as large of numbers as we possibly could because of other irrational faiths in nationalism, xenophobia or whatever.

Even with all that, it has no bearing on your point. It's a red herring, to connect it to your argument is meant to elicit an emotional response about the scientific method you mention later which is somewhat attached to the point but not really.

The "scientific method" and science and reason are not the same.
If humans were fully reasonable creatures, in the fully objective sense, we'd not need a scientific method to temper that nor would we need a scientific method if all science was equivocal. There are different levels, you know this.

The scientific method is a tool, it's imperfect, but it's the best we've got. It needs tweaking, it can be exploited or it can be used for good, but it is self correcting and it is universal. Someone in Russia can examine the same phenomenon and say why it applies or not or why the American/Western view of human populations past aren't that useful. One of the big sins or early sociology/anthropology, etc.

The many other reasons we find to dislike one another can hide the evidence as long as possible, but the evidence will come out.

To equate the creation of tools and who they're used by does not follow. If we didn't have guns it'd be harder to kill people, but you know damn well we'd still be lined up trying.

I see this a lot and have heard this argument from other sociology people, but any tool, such as the methods of sociology has been exploited, but we somehow justify throwing out science, and its exploitation, as a bad of the secularists on the same level as religious fundamentalists while we "reason" our field to be more noble and justify keeping it around as the referee.

I think this is why I find this middle, both sides are equal mentality problematic. We're now the referee on the middle line and we've been convinced we should toss out the best tool we've got to look at both sides, a tool in part developed by religious/spiritual folk wanting to understand their God's/deity's(ies')/ spirit's(s') creation, some have held themselves back, others wanted to know, whatever the end result may be.

These positions aren't unequivocal, they're often talking about the same thing, but we've bought into this new language that claims they are separate but equal, which in my mind reeks of a mentality which says they can never actually meet a middle ground and I don't think this could put us any further developing any kind of civil discourse.

His Sinfulness said...

I never suggested throwing out science. I simply pointed out that the ideology that goes with it is just as susceptible to abuse as theism. I'm not suggesting that these ideologies are separate but equal - I am pointing out that any world view that operates without due consideration of other world views is liable to commit atrocities. Theism has done much evil and it has done much good - the same is true of science. Any ideology, in the absence of balanced inquiry, can be used to inflame man's bloodier tendencies.

I am guilty of conflating atheism and science, but for good cause. Most atheists that I have read or who I know personally are firmly grounded in a rationalist perspective. We are about to slip into Kantian waters here... he criticized rationalists for trying to push reason beyond it's abilities, trying to claim knowledge of those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience (the short list of such things would include god, souls, and free will). He also criticized empiricists for ignoring reason in their claim that all knowledge is experiential. His conclusion, that both are needed for knowledge, leaves both the theist and the rationalist atheist out in the cold. Neither can prove what he wants to prove, and neither can prove the other wrong.

So the point of the post was that both sides of this particular debate are spinning their wheels. The existence (or not) of god is a matter of belief that cannot be tested. Despite the claims of certainty from both sides, I have yet to see any actual proof of either position, and I'm not holding my breath for that to change anytime soon.

When I suggest that it would be more fruitful to work on coexistence, I am not just being a liberal hippy. Both the impulse to know and the impulse to worship are pretty resilient in man - no sense in either side wasting time in trying to undo the other.

Troy said...

The arguments for the tools used for both reason and miracle aside, faith really is the issue here. Neither side is willing to admit how large a role faith plays in each side of the field. If I choose the Christian faith, I cannot prove to you the existence of God. I may choose myself to believe it entirely, but my faith is my own. It is when faith becomes mistaken for irrefutable proof that the problem arises within the belligerent Christian (or any other theist) community.

The same may be said of the militant atheist boat. The error is in the mistaking of humanly rationalistic ideal as undeniable proof that the existence of god is voided. No person with a destructively zealous objective can truly add the the bettering of the human condition.

I know I may be just repeating many of your ideas, but I believe this to be one of the largest cancers that exists within this country. The "blankier-than-thou" mentality does nothing but destroy relationship between fellow humans. Judgment and angry fervor does not a healthy society make.

Claytonian said...

Science may have given us the bomb, but the guy in charge of the button is often a little more religious than I would like.

His Sinfulness said...

Thanks for your input, guys. I agree - too much emphasis on one ideology, in the absence of due consideration of other, competing ideologies, generally leads to trouble.

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