Saturday, July 24, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Balko puts himself somewhere around Ron Rosenbaum's position in his ridiculous Agnostic Manifesto. The comment sections both of those links are rife with excellent refutations of Rosenbaum's specious arguments. I cite one of my contributions below. The comments are so plentiful, I wonder if Rosenbaum has had the opportunity to read them all, or enough to see the errors he made. I would also hope that Radley saw enough to rethink his endorsement, so that in the future he could find (or make) better justifications for calling himself an agnostic.
I know Radley Balko has sneered at "smug atheists" in the past, which reminds me of one of my criticisms of atheism, before I realized that perception was wrong. For one, contrast the attitudes of the faithful who think they're going to heaven and all the rest of us infidels are going to burn in hell. No atheist I know could ever come close to that level of smugness, which when carried to the extreme leads to hatred, cruelty, and murder. You'll not find anything like that from an atheist qua atheist. Sure, there are plenty of people who are assholes about their disdain for religion, as with any group of people. To me, the "New Atheists" display an earnest, active resolution to enlighten people who may be ignorant about atheism (believing some of the nonsense Rosenbaum writes, for example), both as a way to protect non-believers from the ages-old bigotry against them, and as a way to redirect the energies of people away from the frivolities of imaginary things.
Smug? Consider the scientists, engineers, or musicians who put time and energy into studying a particular problem, trying to invent something good, or even just trying to understand what others have done before them. Confidence, satisfaction, and even joy are quite reasonable when things which don't make sense (or are not very good) are pushed off the table. But oftentimes, as was my own personal case, an outsider who sees this attitude mistakes it as an annoying smugness. But I suspect most of that misperception is driven by ego—not wanting people we may not like (for whatever reason) to be right or wise or smart.
Sometimes, one must put aside ego and work to be as honest and rational as possible. Read Hitchens or Dawkins, be open-minded, and don't fall for Rosenbaum's straw man model of atheism. If you're a self-described agnostic, you may realize you misunderstood the atheist arguments, and thus didn't have an accurate idea of what it means to be an atheist (which, of course, is a broad category which includes many variations). By all means, avoid becoming a catatonic skeptic, because that isn't wisdom. It's avoidance.
Here's my first comment (#28) at Balko's place:
Despite the common misconception, Richard Dawkins and other atheists do not have an absolute, 100% disbelief. In The God Delusion, Dawkins has a [Spectrum of theistic probability] scale from absolute belief to absolute disbelief, with agnostics in the middle. He puts himself close to, but not actually at, 100% disbelief. The common analogies are comparing a rational consideration of the possibility of a deity to the rational consideration of the existence of a teapot in orbit between Mars and Earth, or the existence of fairies in the bottom of the garden. Strictly speaking, I can’t rule out the teapot or the fairies, because tomorrow someone could actually provide proof. But I feel quite safe in disregarding such a “possibility” as too trivial to concern myself, like an infinite number of other similarly trivial “possibilities”.
That’s not agnosticism, either.
I identified as an agnostic for about 15 years. I considered atheists to be smug and often hostile to good people of faith. But I realize now that what tethered me to the theist side of the fence was residual Christian fear and guilt, as well as a kind of desperate hope that there was some kind of higher power. I even described myself as an agnostic leaning towards Deism.
I cut the tether [see #75 for more details] when I read someone point out how cruel it is to convince a child that their beloved grandfather would be burning forever in fire because he wasn’t baptized. All of the seemingly “well-meaning” traditional religions are poisoned with such hideous fundamental ideas, because it is necessary to inculcate people with fear and/or hate in order to keep them from “straying”, i.e., using their rational mind and dismissing religious tales as ridiculous fantasy–not to mention identifying the truly horrible aspects and applications. Leaders can only control the minds of religious followers so long as they use such despicable ploys. Even the Eastern and New Age religions are often poisoned with a worship of death over life. (Without such poison, they’re just silly fluff, mere fads.)
So, once I freed myself of that irrational anchor, I decided that, while I can respect people of faith who treat others respectfully and appreciate how much their beliefs mean to them, I should never again respect their actual beliefs. I don’t include the non-supernatural, rational beliefs like the 'Golden Rule' and [rules like] don’t commit murder. But I give no special exceptions for brises, religious education, slave garb for women, etc.. No, it’s not for me to decide how other people raise their children or treat their wives, but I also don’t have any reason to overlook cruelty and deception just because it falls inside some conceptual fence of “faith” (a wholly unvirtuous human quality).
I regret wasting my time on the agnostic fence and I would highly recommend that anyone who now considers him/herself an agnostic to critically question why. Read god is Not Great (Hitchens) and The God Delusion (Dawkins) if you haven’t already, rather than relying on hearsay about these people. I have a couple bones to pick with both, such as Dawkins’ utilitarian approach to morality and Hitchens’ occasional broad brush condemnations. But they do make excellent arguments against theism and agnosticism.