Friday, November 6, 2009

The one true way of atheism and how evolution pays the price

Almost every atheist out there knows that there are a lot of misconceptions about atheism and what being an atheist exactly means. Even though most people tend to be clueless of what other people believe in general, the level of ignorance people have about atheism is simply astounding.

One of the things that annoys me the most, is the idea that since I’m an atheist I must be a certain way or believe a certain thing. People just can’t seem to grasp the concept that atheists only have one concrete thing in common – they don’t believe in a god. Everything is up in the air after that. Saying I’m atheist only tells you one thing about me. One.

Another thing is the way atheists are often painted as “militant” or “religious” in their disbelief. It just doesn’t make any sense. People may criticize the Pope for condemning condom use in HIV/AIDS stricken Africa but no one would think to call him “militant.” President Bush claimed god was just telling him what to do when he launched war on a sovereign nation and yet we never heard people criticize that faith as “militant” either.

Yet let one atheist ridicule the carnival show that is (most) religion, and suddenly these crazy “militant” atheists are trying to indoctrinate our children and turn this country into a socialist orgy fest. It’s all a bit ridiculous.

A perfect example is a recent article at the New Statesman by Dan Jones. In the article Jones questions whether “new atheists,” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are turning people off from accepting evolution because they present “an unnecessarily divisive choice: you can accept evolution and a scientific world-view more broadly, and therefore reject religion, or cling to religion and sacrifice scientific understanding.”

An excerpt:
This strategy, critics argue, alienates moderate religious people who might otherwise be receptive to scientific theory. Faced with a mutually exclusive choice between their private faith and the objective world-view of science, moderates will turn away from the latter. Science loses out.
Forrest argues that new atheists should respect the personal nature of faith, and nurture a sense of humility by recognising that scientific evidence does not rule out existence of the divine. They should accept that there is a wide range of views, she says, and stop insisting that everyone follow the "one true way" of atheism. Failing to do so only turns people off in droves.
The problem with this sort of thinking is that it’s a logical fallacy. Personal religious choices and scientific data are not intrinsically linked. The person who rejects evolution, in face of the facts, because some people who accept evolution also happen to be atheists is not the responsibility of atheists. Sam Harris' book didn't come out till 2004 and yet we are supposed to believe that these "new atheists" have hurt moderate religious people's stance on evolution? Then how do we explain the immense rejection of evolution by people in America before 2004? Atheists are not the gatekeepers of evolution and do not need to make people more comfortable with the scientific facts. I also find the idea that “new atheists” (which is a bit condescending) need to be more respectful of a person’s personal spiritual decisions to be completely one sided and further proof of the religious privilege we allow people to claim.

One persons belief in the supernatural is no more sacred or worthy of respect than another persons disbelief in it.

The “one true way of atheism” is a blatant straw man as well. At the beginning of the article Jones claims that some atheists are “fundamentalist in their non-belief” and the idea of “one true way” is only an attempt to reinforce that idea. Unfortunately for the people who make this claim, it’s simply not true.

As I said in the beginning, I’ve never met an atheist who claims that atheists can only act a certain way to be considered atheists. Even Richard Dawkins himself has likened atheist to a herd of cats rather then a herd of sheep. I don’t know why people can’t seem to come to terms with this. There is no surer sign that a person knows little about atheism than the use of the words “fundamentalist” and “religious” to describe it.

The reality is some atheists are assholes (just like some theists are). But to essentially claim that atheists have to deny their view of reality in order to convince other people of evolution is asinine. The problem isn’t atheists and the very few who speak out about their atheism. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the refusal to respect atheism as a valid worldview and take theism off the pedestal we foolishly exalted it to.

Then maybe we can have a real conversation about science without religion mucking it up.

-If you are interested in how accommodating people should be towards religion, when it comes to evolution, you can read an excellent post here.

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