Saturday, 17 July 2010
Atheism isn't what it used to be, in my opinion. When I was an atheist I benefited from thinking I was intellectually superior to believers, emotionally stronger and morally more excellent. I take it as read that all atheists will hold this over me as I held it over believers when I was an atheist. That is fair enough. Furthermore, when I was an atheist I also benefited from believer-baiting, which was a good sport. We all know that you can't prove faith, and hence with a few derisive comments and a small degree of logical argument I could normally decimate any ridiculous superstition, and quite enjoyed doing so. I am pleased that atheists generally treat me with more kindness than this.
However, what has changed is that religious belief keeps being held up as a threat to science. As a scientist I initially felt this was ridiculous, and then I thought the atheists were being deliberately obtuse. Faith and science have lived together in my life very happily. However, it seems to be a driving force in New Atheism and the atheist 'live and let live' approach (albeit with a degree of mockery and derision) seems to have gone.
So I have started listening. I still don't really understand the issues, but they seem to be that science depends on data, and if you act illogically with no data, or against data, then that is anti-science (which leads to climate scepticism and the potential destruction of the planet, for example). Faith encourages actions based on no data and therefore it is bad/dangerous/should be stopped. For me, I believe faith adds something that science can't - an inner journey towards peace, love etc and an outer journey towards loving others better. The retort generally comes back that you don't need faith to do that, and yet it has seemed necessary for me. I am still trying to understand. At the moment the reaction against faith seems disproportionate in most cases and indiscriminate, putting fundamentalism in the same arena as Mother Theresa. The video below is funny and describes New Atheism quite well, but please don't click on it if you object to swearing: