Atheism, proselytism and other isms

Aliette de Bodard @ 09-09-2010

There’s an interesting article by Alom Shaha over on the Guardian’s blog, on why he’s no longer an “angry atheist”. The gist of it is basically that the “preaching” atheists (those who claim loudly that to believe in God is the act of morons) can be as annoying as religious fanatics.
It’s an interesting comparison, and one which reminds me of a conversation I had a while ago over on Gareth’s blog with Cecile Cristofari. Cecile pointed out an article by Tatiana Chernyshova, which explained that

Only a fraction [of people], however, is actually able to explain what e=mc² stand for; and even fewer can understand the theory and explain precisely why it makes sense. The rest of us simply accept scientific facts in the same way as uneducated people in the 19th century accepted the idea that God existed: because competent authorities have said so, but this knowledge still relies on faith, not proof, in spite of the fact that science is supposed to be about proof, not faith.

To me, there’s a fair amount of similarities between atheism, science and religion: they’re all beliefs. Religious faith is the most obvious one; but faith in science (the idea that science can explain and/or control everything) is also one. So is atheism. Some of those beliefs seem more substantiated than others: science seems to work so far at explaining the world around us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect or even that it’s a good explanation. After all, the medieval Christian mythos also worked pretty well to explain the world ten centuries ago–until it became clear that particular worldview wasn’t equal to the task. At some point, all of those require a leap of faith: that science is an accurate representation of reality, that there is a God and that he spoke through the mouth of prophets or of the Messiah, that there is not and will never be a God.

But as beliefs? They’re not equal. Being a loud atheist is OK; being a loud religious person is… well, generally an embarrassment in most First World nations. Believing in science is reasonable and sensible (in spite of the fact that most people have no idea at all how most of it works or what assumptions it rests on, as Chernyshova points out); believing in God is much less so. As a scientist and a believer, I find it fascinating how some beliefs can end up more valued and/or socially acceptable than others, sometimes to the point of being accepted as gospel truths.

(also, I’m very much fascinated by the idea that faith in science has replaced faith in God, which is worryingly plausible, and possibly explains why I always end up in such acrimonious arguments about the fallibility of science)

PS: I welcome notes and comments on the subject, but could you please try to keep to basic rules of politeness. I have seen the Guardian’s comment thread, and I’m not over-enthusiastic to replicate it here…

Aliette de Bodard is a Computer Engineer who lives and works in France. When not wrestling with Artificial Intelligence problems (aka teaching computers how to analyse what they see), she writes speculative fiction. She is the author of the Aztec fantasy Servant of the Underworld from Angry Robot, and has had short fiction published in Asimov’s, Interzone and the Year’s Best Science Fiction.

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29 Responses to “Atheism, proselytism and other isms”

  1. totoze says:

    few remarks (sorry for my bad english) :
    there’s a fair amount of similarities between atheism, science and religion: they’re all beliefs

    If atheism is a belief, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    because competent authorities have said so, but this knowledge still relies on faith, not proof

    Hiroshima and Nagasiki are quite good proof that the scientist known what they are talking about. Few peoples undertand how radiowaves travel, but everybody know how to use a radio, and can check the rality of radiowave. If you add that during your science lessons in school, you verify the fundamental bases of science, I think we can tell that this science = religion = belief is a complete nonsense.

    Being a loud atheist is OK; being a loud religious person is… well, generally an embarrassment in most First World nations.

    That’s not the case in France, where if you can effectively be a loud atheist without consequences, you can be also a loud religious person. As far as I know, in a lot a place in the US, it could be difficult to be officially atheist, and all the presidents are more or less obliged to shown a strong faith. And it’s almost impossible to be atheist in Marocco.

  2. totoze says:

    BTW there is this argument in the article you link :
    Fanatical atheism can be as ugly as religious fanaticism.

    Who are those fanatical atheists as ugly as religious fanatics ? Where are their Al Quaida or Army of God ? Where are their sharia ?

  3. Apesofmath says:

    Science is open and welcomes critique. In order for it to function long held ideas and beliefs must be challenged through experimentation and observation. The same cannot be said of religion. This article puts forth some pretty weak arguments.

  4. yoyojedi says:

    To me, there’s a fair amount of similarities between atheism, science and religion: they’re all beliefs.

    Not quite. (These sort of broad strokes concern me). Religion is usually a belief. Science is a process or a tool for understanding the world, (altho one can have belief in the scientific “body of knowledge”). But atheism is the lack of belief in the super-natural claims of others. There are some atheists who claim “there is no god”, but that’s not core to atheism.

    The suggestion science is “the idea that science can explain and/or control everything” isn’t quite right either. Science is the best process we have for understanding the world. Its based on skepticism, critical thinking, reproducible experiments, peer review, and a bunch of other ideas cobbled together into a world view as accurately objective as we can achieve. Accurate to as many decimal places as we can calculate, or think relevant.

    The E=MC^2 Argument is also deeply flawed. Quick comparison. Some religions claim a God talks to special people called “prophets”. If you want to be a prophet. Good luck with that. If you want to understand what the hell that “e=mc-squared crap” is “all about” a trip to wiki would be a good start. Depending on your level of education, you can spend 30 minutes, or a couple hours wrapping your brain around the concepts. If that’s not enough, Google around a bit. There are tons of educational websites, science museums websites, willing to explain any scientific concept to anyone of any age with any educational background. If that’s still not enough, you can talk to other people who know the math better and can explain it to you.

    Science knowledge is on a want-to-know-basis… anyone is capable of learning the math. They only need to care.

    Most people don’t worry about doing the math themselves, because their smart-phones work… hell… we’re having this conversation over the internet. The scientists and the engineers must be doing something right. There is probably still someone somewhere doing a mystical dance to call forth the rain. But how much faith should we place in that guy in regards to weather prognostication vs http://www.weather.com ?

    This absolutist implication that scientists claim absolute capital-T-truth understanding of everything about everything simply shows a misunderstanding about the nature of science. Understandable in our culture where some jerks make false claims and claim “science”, “backs them up”… combined with the unfortunate human habit to take personal offense to a statement that disagrees with a deeply held belief they have, and construe that statement to be a vile act of oppression, condescension, arrogance, etc.

    Sometimes the proper “scientific” answer is: “we don’t know” or “that’s unexplained”. So it is therefore proper to reject claims who indicate they can explain the unexplainable… be it “ghosts” or “god’s will”. When “We don’t know” is the correct answer, saying “It’s God’s Perfect will, which we can’t possibly understand.” is not quite the same. Its subtle, but the difference is important.

  5. Cory Doctorow says:

    It’s true that few of us understand what E=MC^2 means, but a large plurality of us understand that what the scientific method is, and how it arrives at “truths,” and use that as a heuristic for deciding which experts to trust.

    People in the 19th century accepted God on the basis that He revealed Himself through vivid hallucinations to prophets whose testimony feels credible. This is the ontological basis for faith — and it is at great variance from method-based ontology. The latter may be fraught, but at least it is coherent.

  6. Jem Honor says:

    Was watching Visions of the Future with Michio Kaku last night and was struck by how much trust he put in Science. When he was looking at the idea of a space elevator he spoke as if simply by making it possible for all people to go into space and look back at earth the human race would no longer experience hate? When discussing the good and ills possible with nanotechnology he said that he chose to believe that as a human race we would find ways to ensure that this amazing technology would not be used for ill and we would ensure it is only used for good. Wow what faith he has in science. Another idea was that a matter box constructor thingy (can’t remember what they called it) would bring about worldwide equality.

    And people accuse me of having ‘blind’ faith.

    I think the point here is that even though science is meant to simply be a tool for explaining the world this is not what it has become. Science is a very powerful tool and I certainly give it due respect. But so called ‘angry’ or nue atheists believe that science is the ONLY tool we should use to explain the world. This is when science becomes Faith.

  7. Wolf says:

    I will limit myself to a comment on that statement here: ” I’m very much fascinated by the idea that faith in science has replaced faith in God, which is worryingly plausible ”

    I don’t consider that plausible.
    Faith in God is always tied to consequences: If only you believe, you will go to heaven, find salvation, and make the world a better place. If you don’t believe, you will go to hell. It is vitally important that you believe.

    Faith in science on the other hand doesn’t offer any rewards or punishments. If you believe in science, you gain nothing. If you don’t believe in science, you lose nothing. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not.

    How it is plausible that the faith in one thing, which offers salvation and guidance in your life, is being replaced by faith in something, which offers nothing of that sort at all, is beyond me.

  8. Wolf says:

    @ Jem Honor
    “Was watching Visions of the Future with Michio Kaku last night and was struck by how much trust he put in Science.”
    If you reread your post, you will see that in all the examples you give, Michio Kaku doesn’t put his trust in science. He puts a surprising amount of trust in people, in humanity.

    “But so called ‘angry’ or nue atheists believe that science is the ONLY tool we should use to explain the world. This is when science becomes Faith.”
    What other tools are there, by which we can explain the world?

  9. Wintermute says:

    I’d say nerd faith manifests not so much directly through science but indirectly and more vividly through movements such as Singularitarianism. Everlasting life in teh Uber Interwebs. Salvation through Terminators. Guidance by the all-seeing Hal eye.

    Scientism is not dead either, though.

  10. Aliette de Bodard says:

    My bad, I should have defined the terms better before starting out. I was referring to two very particular sub-beliefs of atheisms and rationalism: respectively, the one that says there is no God, and the one that says that science will and can explain everything. Which isn’t equal to atheism or science, as has been pointed out. That will teach me to try and be short…
    @totoze: in France, it’s darn hard to be outspokenly religious, at least in those subsets of society where I am. But yeah, definitely, some beliefs end up more valued than others the other way round: it’s really hard to be an atheist in Morocco or in Latin America.
    It’s funny how religious fanaticism immediately evokes Islam… What I understood by fanaticism in the article wasn’t quite that, though. I took it to mean “loud and outspoken” (but that was after reading the article). Although, if we want to look at some of science’s ugly achievements, there’s nuclear bombs, and the scientific experiments practised in concentration camps, which are as horrifying as the excesses of the inquisition.
    @Apesofmath: what worries me is that although science bills itself as open to criticism and argument, there’s a big number of people (including scientists) who are not. I’ve had, as I said, acrimonious arguments about scientific theories. There’s a particular kind of hubris associated with science, the fact that it will deal with everything, which to me is about the same as saying religion will deal with everything. If you even so much as imply that science has flaws, some people will pillory you. And that’s the subset that worries me–and that gets close to religious belief.
    @yoyojedi: yup, sorry. I should have defined the terms of my “equal” relationship better. “I don’t know, and I may never know because science has limits” is a perfectly acceptable answer; to me, there’s not much difference between that and “I don’t know, and may never know because it’s God’s work”. Where I get a little worried is when we get to the “I don’t know, but I’m sure science will find out eventually” (which is putting a lot of faith in the scientific process); and even more worried when we get to the “I don’t know, but scientists have got to know” (which is putting a lot of faith in scientists).

  11. Aliette de Bodard says:

    @cory: I agree–partially. I’m not sure everyone is aware that science makes a fair bunch of assumptions before arriving at its conclusions (an informal poll among my engineer colleagues showed that a lot of them took science for granted). But yes, definitely there is a difference between method-based ontology and faith-based ontology (and more coherence, though coherence itself isn’t a surefire indicator of worth).
    @Jem: you definitely explained it a lot better than I did… Thanks!
    @Wolf: if you believe in science (in the sense of absolute belief), then you’ll have the reassurance that the universe makes sense, that you understand how it works (or at the very least that some people out there have an idea of how the universe works). It’s pretty big as far as reassurances go.
    And yes, I agree we don’t have other tools to explain the world in a systematic manner–but that doesn’t mean that science is the definite one. It’s working great so far, which doesn’t mean it’s 100% valid as it is. (and the science we have now is very different from the one of, say, Pythagoras or Newton. A lot of things and processes have changed in the meantime, giving it only a remote communality with what the methods we use today).
    @wintermute: he. That hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s definitely a great example. Thanks!

  12. Captain TickTock says:

    I agree. Rupert Sheldrake is an example of a scientist putting forward new theories to explain experiences that many people have, which are hard to explain with our existing models of the world. Much of the scientific community rejects his work, because they don’t like the idea of our current models being incomplete. Trouble is, models, while mostly workable, will always be incomplete. As you said, science is different now from the time of Newton. Fortunately some accepted the validity of observations that didn’t fit Newton’s models, and looked for better models.

    @totoze: “If atheism is a belief, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”
    – What’s the difference between believing there is no god, and not believing there is a god? My hobby of not collecting stamps is quite enjoyable for me. I do all sorts of things, but I do something.

  13. Captain TickTock says:

    @totoze: “Who are those fanatical atheists as ugly as religious fanatics ? Where are their Al Quaida or Army of God ? Where are their sharia ?”

    Stalin? Mao? Don’t believe they were too hot on God.
    Doesn’t prove atheism is evil, just that it isn’t immune to fanatical extremism, and being used to oppress.

    It wasn’t so long ago. Learn from history sso you don’t have to repeat it…

  14. AnthonyA says:

    I do agree that today’s crazy preacher on a street corner sometimes is tomorrow’s newest leader of a new sect of an older religion. Religions are rarely invented out of thin air – rather, they change, evolve, and fragment over time.

    The process by which people accrete around new religions is, to my observation, similar to that of accretion around new scientific ideas. Adoption is very slow at first, and as more and more people rally around, it eventually reaches a point where people will adopt the idea ( or religion ) without really understanding it, simply because ‘everyone else is doing it’.

  15. Andy says:

    “The gist of it is basically that the “preaching” atheists (those who claim loudly that to believe in God is the act of morons) can be as annoying as religious fanatics.”

    I find *both* groups to be tremendously annoying. For me any “debate” where the opposed parties are clearly unable to accept any of the opposition’s views as even marginally valid to be tiresome.

    “Being a loud atheist is OK; being a loud religious person is… well, generally an embarrassment in most First World nations.” Why is be any sort of “loud” OK? How does an argument for anything become acceptable to anyone when the chief quality of it is not its content but its volume?

    I also take issue with the relevance of this article to Futurismic in general: where’s the Science Fiction or *Fact* here? I don’t need or want to read another entry in a tiresome debate that goes nowhere. You say you’re loath to replicate the guardian’s comment thread, why open this can of worms at all? It’s not the kind of thing I come here looking for.

  16. Michael Xavier Maelstrom says:

    “How it is plausible that the faith in one thing, which offers salvation and guidance in your life, is being replaced by faith in something, which offers nothing of that sort at all, is beyond me.”

    Maybe for the average human it’s not really about salvation?

    I’m of the mind that Science and Religion have the same goal, the same appeal, it’s often subconscious or subcutaneous, but I believe it’s the operating element for why people believe in both., or why they choose one or the other.

    The goal of both, from the human perspective, from the congregation of science or religion, the real why, why people choose either, is -the same-.

    It’s all about achieving /immortality/.

    I think we’re in the dodge, parry stage of the battle. When Science offers a tangible practical means of achieving immortality, the real war will begin.

    And Science will very likely nigh on eradicate religion.

    But not because it’s better or truer, not because it’s more correct, because even if Science achieves the holy grail of human immortality, that will not discount the possibility that some already suspect: that we’re already naturally as a consequence of the laws of existence, immortal (as Religion posits)

    Up to now however, it isn’t known in this life, Religion/Spirituality posits immortality, Science strives to achieve it, bottom line: People want to be immortal and I believe they will ‘believe’ in and support whatever comes along to bring about those immortal ends.

    I think that’s what Science v Religion v Atheism has really all been about, as far as the proponent followers of either are concerned, at its core.

    Immortality and the individual’s reaction to a lack of it.

    I hope that made sense. Bit of a rush.

    — Michael Xavier.

  17. Michael Xavier Maelstrom says:

    sorry, can’t find an edit button.

    correction: Immortality and the individual’s reaction to a perceived lack of it.

    Religion: Immortality already exists, but if you want it to be pleasant, you need to be pleasant.

    Science: We will achieve immortality, for you.

    Atheism: Immortality is fiction, behave as you would as if there were none, and let the chips fall where they may.

  18. DoubleW says:

    I was raised by born-again Christians and became an atheist later on, and it really feels like many atheists miss the point entirely. Nine times out of ten, religion isn’t used as a way to explain the universe. It’s about creating a sense of stability with a community of people purportedly like yourself. They probably aren’t in it for the multi-level marketing scheme for immortality, even. They want a campfire to share some great stories and affirmations around, and that if they serve a strong enough role in this community, that they can rely on this community when they need it most.

    Atheists fall into the trap of arguing over literal contradictions in doctrine that most people don’t even know about, and in many cases only have the foggiest idea of the scientific principles that they want to communicate. We radiate hostility without providing any reasonable social alternative to the communities and notions of morality they’ve grown up with. Is it any surprise that the average christian equates being an atheist with lacking morality?

    Get over your adolescent rebellion already.

  19. Wintermute says:

    @DoubleW: Head of nail, meet hammer.

  20. Wintermute says:

    The thing I really worry about is when Big McReligion cultivates intellectual blindness and is then used as a weapon, population wedge, or con, as has happened in the US. Any ideology can run into these sorts of problems, though.

  21. Wolf says:

    @ Aliette: Thank you for your reply.
    If I understand correctly, you say that the reward science offers to its believers is the reassurance that we can Know with a capital K.
    I am not convinced this is enough to consider it plausibe that faith in science is replacing faith in God. Faith in God offers the same promise of Knowledge (along the lines of “believe and you will understand”). But at the same time, mostly in connection with organized religion, offers many more things: Everything from an afterlife, over an absolute code of ethics, to social institutions.
    Science can’t replace most parts of what makes a faith in God so attractive. It can only stand in for the epistemic aspect (What do we know? How do we go about it?), which isn’t important for most people anyway.

    “It’s working great so far, which doesn’t mean it’s 100% valid as it is.” What does that mean?
    If it means that science is not 100% valid as it is, I would like an example: Where is current science invalid?
    If it means that we can’t ever know that current science is 100% valid, I agree. But I would argue that, since it’s the only tool we have, it’s reasonable to treat it as the definitive tool and act as if it were 100% correct until proven otherwise.

  22. Aliette de Bodard says:

    @Wolf: well, to me, faith in God and organised religion aren’t quite the same thing… There’s one thing, which is “I believe in God”, and another, which is setting up and being part of religious institutions. Again, that was me failing to properly define the terms before starting out… But yes, I definitely agree that’s where science doesn’t quite provide what religion does, neither the ethical code (though we’re starting to engage it due to biological developments, like stem cells or cloning), nor the community of like-minded people to share with.
    Hmm, if it’s ok with you, I’m going to backtrack a bit for the validity of science (I could give you examples from today, but they’d be a bit obscure because they’re at the cutting edge of science, and we’d also lack the necessary distance to judge if they’re valid or not): back in the 19th Century, people similarly thought that science was 100% valid and they’d got everything with no remaining holes. Within a couple of decades, they had to allow for quantum mechanics, and the theory of relativity, which radically changed the perception of the world. Most everyday equations remained correct (Newtonian mechanics are still valid for a certain set of hypotheses), but if you pushed the boundaries a little further (down at the atomic level, or up at high speeds), the 19th-century system broke down. Similarly, I’d tend to think that our current theories might break down in places we haven’t explored yet. Or, to step away from hard sciences, there’s still a ton of things about human biology and cognition that science doesn’t explain.

    I do agree about using science in the absence of anything better–what worries me is your corollary that we act as if it were the definite tool. I worry that this might lead us to not questioning its limitations. I’ve heard often the use of the sentence “this is physically impossible” to say it won’t ever be possible–which isn’t true, it’s just “physically impossible according to the current state of physics”.

  23. Wolf says:

    @Aliette: You are right, if we leave all the perks religion provides out, the belief in science can substitute well for many beliefs in God. Especially the more metaphysical god-concepts like deism or pantheism can probably be taken over by a belief in science with ease. This doesn’t work so well with a personal God. The belief in a theistic God begins to carry answers to existential questions with it, which science doesn’t even claim to be able to answer.

    I think our disagreement about the validity of science resolves itself in a single pair of words: correct vs. complete.
    I only argue that it is reasonable to treat the current state of science as correct, not as complete. To take up your example: If something is physically impossible according to the current state of physics, it is reasonable to treat it as physically impossible, unless you have a good reason to believe otherwise.
    The sentence I have heard too often is: “xy might be the current state of science, but science doesn’t know everything!”, with the not so subtle implication that the current state of science should be ignored because of that.

    As for calling science the definite tool: If you have a hammer as your only tool, that is your ultimate tool. What makes science better than the average hammer, is its ability to reinvent itself (as Physics did in the 19th century). Probably today’s science will not be tomorrow’s science.
    That’s why I have a problem with questioning the limitations of science (as opposed to the limitations of our current knowledge). We have no idea what the limitations of science are, since science might just again shed its skin.

  24. Cecile Cristofari says:

    @Andy: Personally, I do think this article is very relevant to the topic of science fiction. SF is not just about facts. It’s also about ideas, and worldviews, and the various applications of science. Another application of science is providing a distinctive worldview, and actually, I was quite glad to read an article that addressed this issue 🙂

    @Yoyojedi: You’re right, anybody can google what “e=mc2” stands for. The point is, even once you know what the letters mean, you still have to take somebody’s word for it, because an overwhelming majority of the world’s population could not do the calculations themselves with a gun to their head. It’s true, as you said, that with enough hard work one could theoretically manage to do it; but honestly, I know a number of good scientists, and none of them could even come close to that point… so I’m not sure the man on the street with a day job could ever do it in a lifetime, unless they were very, very dedicated 🙂 At some point, scientific theories become so complicated that most of us have to be content with trusting what somebody else said about the matter. I think that’s how you can draw a parallel between the man on the street’s faith in science and religious faith.

    The way I understand this article, I think that the point is not to say that either science, or atheism, or religion are wrong at all (the author can tell me if I didn’t get it right…). The point is, all three are ways of seeing the world. And it is worth asking ourselves (and asking does not always mean answering!) whether they might be a little less absolute and objective as some people think.

    Science has so far been able to provide some reasonably hard facts, there is no question about that. But there is a difference between taking those facts as isolated results, or as unquestionable answers about the truth of the world in general. An example: we know that by triggering certain reactions with certain atoms, you can make a nuclear bomb. Very well. That does not necessarily mean that 1)we have any idea why, and 2)this means that we will be able to make sense of the universe at all using the same physical conclusions. As Aliette pointed out, as of now no one has been able to find a general theory that would reconcile quantum physics, the relativity theory and Newton’s mechanics. Maybe we’ll find it, maybe we won’t. That we don’t know the limits of science does not mean that it does or doesn’t have limits at all.

    What I think is important is that science in the modern world is not only about hard facts. Science is about ideology as well (in the broad sense of the word, not the negative one). For many people, it is about making sense of the universe. For me, a good example is the current trend of Darwinian psychology, that endeavours to make sense of human behaviour by explaining it in terms of survival skills. In a great number of vugarisation articles I’ve read, I found that the authors tended to make a big confusion between “this or that behaviour got selected over time, because of a mixture of chance, probability and occasional absurdity” and “this behaviour was objectively the best, so it was selected with a very good reason” (as if nature had carefully thought things over before taking a decision). In other words, they often seem to substitute “why” for “how” with no second thought. I know that vulgarisation often has little in common with science. But we’re talking about the view people in general have of science, not only about science itself, aren’t we?

    We could even venture as far as saying that science is a language. When we point to a phenomenon and say “e=mc2”, it’s not very different from pointing to a fruit and saying “Apple”. You can do many things once you can say “apple”: you can ask the grocer for apples, read a cookery book and understand that you need apples to make a pie, tell a Mac from a PC… Similarly, once you know the formula that defines a certain phenomenon, you can do many things, theory, technology… But ultimately, what science does is describe that phenomenon. It doesn’t said why it is so, and it is not obvious at all that it could ever do it (being able to describe does not always make you able to explain), in spite of what many people are ready to assert without question. It may be, but we can’t be sure yet. It’s interesting to see that when science was still not very developped, many people believed without question that God had created the universe with words, while today, as science has made some progress, there are many people who don’t question the fact that scientific reasoning will give us the ultimate answer. Again, the question is not to define whether they are right or wrong. But I do agree that in the present state of affairs, believing that science will be able to explain “why” on top of “how” takes as much of a leap of faith as religion does.

    Cecile

    PS: @Aliette: thanks for that thought-provoking article! I’m saving it for my PhD files 🙂

  25. DoubleW says:

    A religion is made up of the Theology, the Institution, and the Identity, a divine trinity if I ever saw one. Science is made up of methodical observation and honesty, with no room for prepackaged motivation. But people expect science to have an Institution, an authority figure to delegate the difficult decisions to, because science has been placed in opposition to religious institutions.
    Should science acquire an Institution of sorts? Maybe allowing ethics professors and trained philosophers to provide more bullet-pointed analysis that the public can actually view and digest?
    Imagine a morning show between Dr. Oz and The View (as in ‘not on PBS during American Idol’) that uses simpler language and audience participation to give a tl-dr version of where these issues existin context of the public at large. Have anecdotes from pretty-faced people backed by solid research to encourage the public to take a long, honestly skeptical look at the world. Bill Nye the Science Guy for people who should be adults by now. It would have a hell of a time finding advertisers.
    I don’t know, maybe I’m just bitter from watching too much daytime TV in the breakroom at work. Divorce Court makes me want to headbutt someone.

  26. Stones Bytes says:

    By the age of 25, any “loud” atheist who has not moved to a moderate atheism with a pinch of agnosticism – the equivalent of [citation needed] – is definitely not getting closer to wisdom.
    Besides, science falls prey to dogmas, lobbies and other agendas.

    For example, you can’t really enjoy Hyperion while being an angry & loud atheist; you’re missing something of importance.

  27. Louise says:

    When atheism gets compared to “not collecting stamps”, I wonder if the non-philatelists out there bother having conventions, blogging, or abusing philatelists as delusional or unintellligent. One can’t promote atheism as being hugely positive AND still say it’s just a negative, a lack of belief in something, can one?

    Unfortunately I’ve seen far too many blogs and articles by atheists (doubtless more representative of blogdom than of atheists in general) which fall into the category of “fundamaterialists” – their minds are as closed as any religious fundamentalist. In that respect, and in the clannish behaviour (criticism isn’t acceptable and will draw the same ho-hum witticisms about the FSM et al) then atheism does become all too much like a religion.

    I just wish more people would get the point that faith is not the same as religion, and stop lumping anyone whose life has led them to believe in more than the material universe, in the same category as Biblical fundamentalists.

  28. Babylon says:

    Personally I am more bothered by Evangelical Atheists than Evangelical Christians. The reason being that the Christians at least are evangelizing out of a desire to save me from eternal damnation, the Atheist just wants me to aknowledge that he is right.

  29. Michael says:

    Well, science is much concerned with “how” things work–physical laws; social rules; history–but religion is quite another thing, pertaining to “why” we are here, and “where” are we going after all things end. I used to be an atheist for the better part of my adult life. But recently, I revised myself. I discovered that I was making clashes between things totally out of the way of each other (What uses can be applied to a microwave has nothing to do with “how” the microwave was invented). I no longer can accept either that the cosmos, and subsequently life, has been pushed to existence “for” nothing.

    When I came back to the Bible, I did not experience any supernatural miracles, to be sure; but I surprisingly found out that it is greatly logical and that I have no means to refute the data inscribed in it. About the story of Creation, the Bible did not mention anything about “how” God created life; it gives us only a flash on a time period consisting of unscaled eras [A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day–“broadly speaking”]. I have found out also that there is a good scientific portion therein (e.g. He who is sitting on the circle of the earth). Of course it is not meant to be a scientific book; but at least all the data connected to science in it are valid.

    I deem it bigotry to force other people to believe in what I believe; but on the other hand, it is bigotry as well from atheists to try to impose on me something I’m not convinced with. If there is no material proof–if you believe only in matter–on the presence (or absence) of a God, then the subject of our discussion is “unsettled”. Calaiming otherwise is narrow-mindedness and bigotry–from either side.