Thoughts on atheism
H/T Christoper Sanders
Over at Slate.com (not surprisingly), Ron Rosenbaum wrote a piece entitled The Agnostic Manifesto which aims to lay out difference between Rosenbaum’s self-proclaimed agnosticism and my view on such matters, atheism.
It’s an interesting article, worth a read, but I think it doth protest too much.
My response to Rosenbaum (posted as a comment on the Slate web site) is as follows:
One of my favorite maxims when it comes to the world of deep thought, such as that which Ron Rosenbaum tries to inhabit with this article, is that ideas are not responsible for the people who believe them.
So it is with the “New Atheists", not least people like Richard Dawkins who try to convert from a career in science to a career in preaching to the rest of us about their atheism.
Perhaps it is this rather unappealing know-it-all aspect of Dawkins and his ilk which causes Rosenbaum, with some good reason, to want to disassociate himself from them.
However, despite the media attention given to the Dawkins/Hitchens crowd or to small groups (or even single) atheists who sue every time they find a quasi-religious symbol on government property, there are plenty of atheists (including me) who don’t believe in god simply because we find the prospect untenable, our thinking much along the lines of Occam’s Razor.
While I can’t say I know for a metaphysical absolute certainty that there is no supreme being, I do not buy the logic that just because science doesn’t have all the answers yet (and admittedly may never have them all), therefore we must suddenly leap to the conclusion or at least measurable possibility that there is a supreme being, something for which I and many others can find not a shred of evidence.
I don’t see a logical path to conclude that it’s more likely for Jesus to have been the son of god than for the right answer being held by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or that Douglas Adams was right when he told us in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.
Of course science doesn’t have all the answers. And most likely it never will. Two basic points to make. First, science has more answers with each passing year and (except for scientists corrupted by the primarily-political “global warming” movement) science is open for discussion and correction, unlike theism. Some people argue that the fact that science needs correction from time to time is its fatal flaw. That, of course, is a ridiculous claim insofar as whether it damages the fundamental importance and value of science to explaining the world in and around us. Furthermore, even religions find tenets of their belief systems occasionally “reinterpreted” by those faiths’ leaders, though not in a way which questions their fundamental belief in their god, prophet, or whomever.
Second, given the tendency of the passage of time, not least of time on a geological scale, to damage information and given the inherent characteristic of singularities (such as black holes and the Big Bang) to prevent any access to data regarding matter in or created by (outright, or as a change in form) the singularity which existed prior to the singularity, it’s not just a guess that science will never have all the answers. It’s a certainty that it won’t.
But again, that doesn’t mean we should jump to a faith-based solution to fill in those blanks; just because we don’t have the answer in scientific terms doesn’t mean there is one.
To me, the odds that we can explain so much without god means that it is vanishingly unlikely that we need god to explain what we haven’t figure out yet. Again, Occam’s Razor guides the way.
Do I know for an absolute certainty that there is no supreme being? No. But my level of belief – and I admit that’s all we have on something we can never know for sure – is so certain that I consider myself an atheist rather than an agnostic.
Some agnostics, perhaps Rosenbaum included, are indeed just “weak tea atheists” who, understandably, don’t want to be associated with blow-hard self-promoting atheists whose primary motivations are either to seem so much smarter and more sophisticated than everyone else or simply to sell more books. Some agnostics truly fit the definition of the word: they really just don’t know and do leave a measurable possibility for the existence of god. It really doesn’t matter to me what people call themselves or why as long as they leave the rest of us alone.
In the meantime, I am a contented atheist, even if that means that theist and even agnostic friends say that I am, in my own way, a man of faith. They may mean it as a jab, but I take no more offense at it than if someone tells me there’s at least some chance that 2+2=5.
Most atheists aren’t interested in proselytizing our lack of belief in god any more than the average non-Orthodox Jew (a heritage Rosenbaum and I share) is interested in doing so. I am not responsible for Richard Dawkins just because we share some belief. I will not cave in to feeling a need to rename my view or abandon it just because people like him share it. Perhaps Mr. Rosenbaum just needs a little better self-esteem and then he can just admit that he’s an atheist, and that being an atheist doesn’t mean one needs to be a self-righteous pompous ass, such as those “New Atheists” who give the rest of us “old atheists” a bad name.
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