Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 6

Chapter 2: Atheism With A Purpose

Why Fight Religion?

If I could pinpoint the one thing that I despise most about religion, it’s that it hinders intellectual and moral progression by asserting that its frozen philosophy and claims to knowledge are true and should reign supreme just because they are written in a book and are believed to be the words of god. Why should we ever refrain from doing what we believe to be right and that we can justify through reason and scientific evidence simply because a book that someone tells us is the word of god says otherwise? And why should we ever disbelieve what the most accurate scientific data tells us to be true simply because a book that someone tells us is the word of god says otherwise? I could rail on and on about what I don’t like about fundamentalist religion and theism, and I could cite a plethora of examples why that view of religion is bad for society, but that’s not exactly the purpose of why I’m writing this. It's not religious fundamentalism that I have a bone to pick with here, it's religious moderation that I'm aiming my sites on.

Although the fundamentalist view of religion is its most malignant strain, I've increasingly become aware that its own intellectual ignorance is killing itself off. To adapt to the twenty-first century, religion has had to evolve, lest it become extinct. In evolutionary terms, it has had to adapt to a changing intellectual landscape. The theory of evolution is no longer a fringe theory – it has for decades been mainstream science on which the whole field of biology is founded on. A growing number of Christians, Jews and even Muslims today are accepting evolution as fact and are retrofitting it into their theological worldviews. (Some even have the balls to claim that the complexity of the evolutionary process is actually proof that god exists!) Since growing numbers of theists are abandoning young earth creationism at an alarming rate and are accepting that we live in an old universe that’s billions of years old, and not a mere few thousand, for the purposes of this writing, I will not be focused on the theists who interpret their religious texts literally. I will instead focus on theists who accept Big Bang cosmology, micro and macro evolution and most of what modern science demonstrates to us is true. This kind of theistic worldview perhaps can best be summed up by the PowerPoint slides in a lecture made by the American geneticist Dr. Francis Collins on science and belief that he gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:

Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”. 

It is my sincere belief that fundamentalist religious worldviews will continue to grow more and more untenable as we progress through the age of science and will decrease over time. It is therefore this modern theistic adaptation described in Dr. Collins’ slides that I believe will become the prevailing monotheistic interpretation into the future. This new scientifically friendly brand of theism, something I like to call theism 2.0 (or Christianity 2.0, Islam 2.0) is certainly for the atheist a sign of relief. It means we will no longer necessarily have to waste significant amounts of time debating over whether evolution exists (although we will still have to debate the interpretations of it) or whether the universe and earth were created in six literal days. We will all finally be free to accept what modern cosmology and biology tells us and focus on some of the bigger issues. Despite this modified theism however, the question over the origin of the cosmos will still allow the theist to insert the hand of god where it is not needed. And on issues of morality as you can see from slide 5 above, the debate will continue on as to whether there are evolutionary underpinnings of ethical behavior.

Nevertheless, this theism 2.0 is kind of like moving the goal posts. How is the atheist going to successfully demonstrate religion to be false if theists can just concede entire swaths of their religious dogma, and simply just modify their beliefs to fit science? If the entire argument against evolution can simply just be abandoned and conceded when the evidence becomes too strong, what’s next? It'll be interesting to see as our knowledge progresses what further concessions theists will be willing to make.

Finally, despite these concessions, as long as theists are able to insert the hand of god somewhere into our understanding of the natural world, it will allow them to keep the doors open to all kinds of superstitious thinking, unjustified pseudo-science, and the denial of certain scientific theories and facts that contradict their theology. This will enable them to hinder and sometimes even reverse the moral and intellectual progression that a naturalistic worldview free of dogma allows, and even this modernized theism 2.0 is susceptible to this kind of backward moving ignorance. So that’s why I fight religion – even moderate religion – along with any way of thinking prohibits an honest assessment of the evidence and that opens the door to dogmatic unjustified beliefs. And that’s why you should fight religion too.

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