Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 30, 2008

On Angry, Arrogant Atheism

Filed under: culture, religion, science, Uncategorized — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 7:22 am

Recently, PZ Myers ripped Gordy Slack for “bad” articles on creationismGordy Slack’s reply is revealing in its own way.

It surprises me that PZ is so pissed off by my efforts to understand why so many Americans reject evolution. If you ask them, and I have bothered to ask hundreds or thousands over the past two years, many will tell you that more than anything else, it’s the arrogant zealotry of cocksure ideologues that turns them off to evolution. They see people calling their intuitions and worldviews retarded and corrupt, and they march the other way. That’s one reason why we evolutionists have done such an abysmal promotions job even though we’re armed with the most delightful and seductive and potent theory ever. If we can’t sell evolution, we must be doing something wrong. Right? I’m just saying that we might start by resisting the urge to spit bile in the face of potential buyers.

Gordy Slack’s original article, such as it was, painted creationism as a form of legitimate skepticism.  It conferred respect on creationism for its truly adversarial relationship to science, noting things that apparently creationists pointed out, and science eventually proved them right.  PZ Myers’ point was: no, scientists were saying the same things, and unlike the creationists, they found the hard evidence to prove it.

Creationism is fundamentally reactionary and denialist.  The line between honest skepticism and denialism can usually be discerned by asking a simple question.  Both the skeptic and the denialist will claim there is not enough evidence to support a particular claim, what differentiates the two is their answer as to what evidence would be necessary to change their belief.  The true skeptic will be able to produce a few pieces of evidence that would convince them.  A denialist will sometimes openly say no amount of evidence will convince them, or if they are more sophisticated, they will just leave it at an unspecific more.

The fact of the matter is that the theory of evolution by natural selection is one of the best and heavily supported scientific theories we have.  The rejection of evolution rests on a logical fallacy, the fear of its ramifications, not the lack of evidence.  The arrogance of the atheist, or the evolutionary scientist is the mere questioning of the unassailable church doctrine.  The thinking goes, if those atheists weren’t so arrogant and just accept the fact that the bible is unerringly correct, then there wouldn’t be a problem.

There are many that believe there is some way to reconcile the theory of evolution and religion.  I am not denying that there are ways to reconcile the two beliefs, but there are none that I find particularly intellectually satisfying.

What the creationists of the world seek from the scientists is simple: accommodation.  And this is what makes atheists so angry.  It sends the message that if one is petulant enough, stubborn enough, loud enough, irrational enough, that it is possible to get the most reasonable of institutions to cave.  Science, as an ideal, is imperfectly implemented by humans.  We try our best, and sometimes we fail, but the central tenet is that we try to succeed, and we are fundamentally honest.

I used to believe standing by a principle was easy.  Science was some forgone conclusion, why wouldn’t someone want to be rational?  Why wouldn’t someone want to know more about the physical world around them?  My upbringing was religious.  I saw going to church on Sunday as some sort of insurance policy.  I thought there was some ancient break where god was regularly intervening in the world and then he quit for some reason.  Later, I realized that the person who went to church on Sunday was the same on Monday.  The tales of great miracles occur regularly, but when examined closely they more closely resemble hoaxes or tales of the credulous, not divine intervention.  Finally, I was able to stitch together a coherent, rational view of natural history that exposes the very strange creatures that we are and what we believe.

I admit it.  I’m a little bit bitter about that.  I can only compare and contrast my own experience of confirmation with this statement from the Brights.

Hello, parents/guardians! Please read the following Brights’ Net’s “rules” for youngsters signing up to be counted in the constituency of Brights.

1) The decision to be a Bright must be the child’s. Any youngster who is told he or she must, or should, be a Bright can NOT be a Bright. [The Brights’ Net doesn’t wish to count children who are not taking the step for themselves.]

2) Children should know they can change their mind at a later time (as can any person).

3) A child must be able to independently sign onto the Brights’ Net site, read and understand the definition, conclude they are a Bright, and then locate and complete the sign-up form without assistance. (Parents should feel free to discuss likely implications of “being a Bright” with the child, but the child must be capable of abiding by the guidelines.)

Can you imagine a church adopting such a policy before we start labeling children Christian?

Religion is at war with the world.  At war with the truths we discover.  Has religion ever endorsed some new discovery and gone, wow, this is better than we thought?  The universe is far older, larger, grander, more complex and elegant than our prophets led us to believe.

This willful ignorance is something to be angry about.  Furthermore, I will not lie, mislead or deny the truth as I see it to accommodate those who want to wallow in a delusion.  If this makes me arrogant, so be it.  I ask nothing less than an intellectual revolution towards rationality, a new permanent enlightenment of our species to replace the decadent thinking of the here and now.  Thinkers unite!  You have nothing to lose but your superstitions and an undimmed view of universe to gain and explore.

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2 Comments »

  1. “There are many that believe there is some way to reconcile the theory of evolution and religion. I am not denying that there are ways to reconcile the two beliefs, but there are none that I find particularly intellectually satisfying.”

    The problem doesn’t lie with religion, or Christianity as a whole, but rather it lies with the fundamentalist groups. I for one as a Christian will openly reject Creationism, as well as embrace the theory of evolution and the big bang. Why? Because I don’t think there’s a conflict between science and religion… unless you hold that religion fundamentally.

    I reconcile the idea of evolution and Christianity as thus: the argument against evolution is usually made by quoting the Christian idea that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Well yeah.. but if you follow your tenets of God to conclusion then God can’t have a physical material body, so it obviously wasn’t our bodies which the idea is talking about. Besides that the evidence that evolution takes place is just too overwhelming, take a look at the Galapagos (sp?) for instance. If you take the idea of being created in the image and likeness of God to mean our ability to think critically and rationally, (as Eastern Christiandom does) and don’t take the 6 day creation story as literal fact then there’s problem with the idea of evolution.

    The same goes with the theory of the Big Bang. Science no where says that that definitively is how it happened, that’s why it’s called the ‘theory’ but even so, what is to say that some higher power (i.e. God) didn’t set the whole process in motion?

    Comment by Zacharias — June 30, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  2. Hello again Zacharias,

    The same goes with the theory of the Big Bang. Science no where says that that definitively is how it happened, that’s why it’s called the ‘theory’ but even so, what is to say that some higher power (i.e. God) didn’t set the whole process in motion?

    First point, you seem to be misinterpreting the scientific meaning of the word “theory” and its colloquial usage.

    The word theory, in the context of science, does not imply uncertainty. It means “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena”

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA201.html

    As for the Big Bang in particular, I agree with you, we don’t currently know every aspect of how it happened. But that is different from saying that it is unknowable. Nevertheless, we currently have top men (and women) trying to figure out more. Who knows what facts we will discover about the beginning of the universe a thousand years from now, or even 50.

    As for your proposition for a higher power setting it in motion, this is what Dennett calls a “skyhook” (as opposed to a “crane”).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Darwin%27s_Dangerous_Idea&oldid=212930740

    Dennett used the term “skyhook” to describe a source of design complexity that did not build on lower, simpler layers – in simple terms, a miracle.

    In philosophical arguments concerning the reducibility (or otherwise) of the human mind, Dennett’s concept pokes fun at the idea of intelligent design emanating from on high, either originating from God, or providing its own grounds in an absurd, Münchausen-like bootstrapping manner.

    Dennett also accuses various competing neo-Darwinian ideas of making use of such supposedly unscientific skyhooks in explaining evolution, coming down particularly hard on the ideas of Stephen Jay Gould.

    Dennett contrasts theories of complexity which require such miracles with those based on “cranes”, structures which permit the construction of entities of greater complexity but which are themselves founded solidly “on the ground” of physical science.

    We can postulate a high power, but as Dawkins argues in “The God Delusion” this is a “skyhook.” If the universe needed a creator, then the creator needed even something greater to set it in motion. The solution out of the higher power regress is a crane, something that explains how complexity and the appearance of design arises. Evolution is a good example of such a crane. As for the universe itself, I am not a particular fan of multiverses, but it is the type of theory that one would need.

    As such, in order for an intelligent higher power to set the universe in motion, the higher power itself must have come about via some sort of crane and started the whole process over again for our universe. It is very much a brain in the bottle scenario. There is no way to tell whether or not it is true currently. But, what is the evidence that leads us to think we are in this situation to begin with? There is no need for it, and there is no way to test it, and thus guided by Occam’s razor, I reject it pending evidence.

    Yes, the door is left open a crack. Science, unlike religion, never speaks in terms of unconditional truths. However, it really displays an extraordinary bias to act as if it is just a god or higher power was waiting behind that door, all sorts of fantastical notions lie behind that door, both imaginable and unimaginable. It is like the constant harping on a higher power somehow makes it more likely. As if constantly repeating 2+2=5 makes it more likely for the statement to be true, meanwhile, not considering all the other scenarios that are equally likely.

    Comment by codesmithy — July 1, 2008 @ 12:25 pm


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