Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Introduction

Let me start by explaining why I chose this title for my blog.

Actually, if you’ve read the quote – which is placed conveniently on the right, if you haven’t – or are already familiar with it, you probably understand.

I decided I wanted to create this blog about a week ago, when I started composing a mental post in my head about atheism for perhaps the fiftieth time in response to some news article or other and realized that I should actually write them out somewhere other than the inside of my skull. I spent quite a long time trying to figure out a good name, harassed a number of my friends without really getting anywhere, and generally despaired of ever getting it off the ground because I cannot title things to save my life. Then, when I was rereading the Hitchhiker’s Guide series this afternoon, an obvious solution struck me – name it after a quote from Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams was a brilliant writer, one of the funniest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to read, and an atheist. The Salmon of Doubt, which is a collection of his writings on a number of non-Hitchhiker subjects (with a story about young Zaphod thrown in there for good measure), contains some of my favorite writing on atheism ever. Nobody, in my opinion, quite captures the absurdity of religion better than Douglas did. Which leads me to the quote on the right, and its application to modern humanity.

We are, for all intents and purposes, just such a puddle when it comes to the universe as a whole. We sit here, on our little ball of rock, orbiting a gigantic fusion reactor some ninety million miles away, and pretend that the whole shebang – a universe so vast that our tiny little brains are simply not equipped to comprehend its size, or even the timescale it operates on – was created with the sole purpose of harboring us. And we show a disturbing tendency to believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise, that the universe – or, more accurately, some incomprehensible thing outside of it, that we cannot by definition understand but who revealed his plans for us via badly-written books thousands of years ago – loves us and cares for us. And I am afraid that we will continue to believe this, stubbornly, until some accident of the universe – or far more likely, some accident of our own design – turns this little corner of the Milky Way lifeless once again.

No, I am not here to predict doomsday tomorrow, or even next decade. Despite all of our manifest flaws, I think that humanity has done rather well for itself, and has the potential to stick around for quite a long time. But I no longer think we can afford, in a day and age where we have at last acquired the technology necessary to bring ourselves to an abrupt end, to have religion hold the kind of sway it does in the minds of far too many people. The ideal of martyrdom has already killed thousands, and may yet kill millions more if its practitioners can acquire nuclear weapons. On the flip side, people with actual influence in the government of the United States of America are convinced that they must support Israel so that Armageddon can take place; incredible as it may seem, these people would view the destruction of the human race as a good thing.

I can hear the protestations starting now, just as they have for Dawkins, and Harris, and Hitchens, and Dennett, and PZ Myers, and everyone else who has had the temerity to say that religion is detrimental to humanity. I may lack the influence and the eloquence of that illustrious group, but my point, and their point, and the point of so many others like us, remains valid. The elevation of faith as a virtue, and most especially the view that this life is but a test and a preview of an eternity to come, can do nothing but serve us poorly both as a species and as individuals.

It is hard to write these words, much harder than it is to write about the idiocy of a political position, or the moral bankruptcy that results from rooting for the Yankees (may they miss the playoffs). Religion, above all else, is our society’s sacred cow. It is impolite, crass, simply uncivilized to criticize it. I, and many others like me, think this is absurd – and it is, on an intellectual level – but there is still a reflexive twinge inside me that wants to soften the words, to say “yes, but...”, to bend over backwards to avoid offending religious people, especially the ones I call friends. But that would be dishonest, and I think they deserve better from me than that – and I believe they are good enough people that what I write here will not cause them to end our friendship.

I run the risk, now, of going in too many different directions, rambling on about each new facet of the topic as it rises to the top of the (sadly disorganized) stack. There is much to cover, and I need to avoid getting ahead of myself. So I will conclude this first post by summarizing, briefly, the core of my position.

I do not believe in a god, be it Yahweh, Allah, or Zeus. I do not believe in the soul. I do not believe, in fact, in any sort of supernatural phenomenon whatsoever. I cannot conclusively disprove any of these things, but neither can I disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russell’s teapot, or the invisible pink unicorn in my garage (to name some famous examples). I simply believe that the probabilities of any of these things are so vanishingly small that it is in my best interest to live my life as if they do not exist.

I do not believe that religion should be treated differently than any other topic, lest people get offended. I do not believe that faith in the face of evidence is a virtue – in fact, I believe that the damage this attitude does to reason itself is one of the biggest arguments for the detrimental nature of religion. I do not believe religion should be allowed in our government or our science classrooms.

I do believe in humanity. I believe that we have the capability to rise above our superstitions, enshrine reason as the greatest of virtues, and let go of the arrogant and fundamentally unsound idea that we are the end goal of the universe. I believe that we can, someday, recognize that this life is all we’ve got, and that we’d better make the best of it.

I believe that I have something to say. And I hope you’ll stick around to read it.

6 comments:

Divine said...

What about the concept of belief? You appear to extend this disbelief towards religious ideals, but end it there. How does the concept of belief (to believe in something without sufficient or even moderately sufficient logical evidence) play out in your world view. The concept seems, from your post, to be used in a slightly hypocritical manner, or perhaps you've compartmentalized the use of the concept? Or perhaps it is simply something I have not considered, which is why I ask.

TDW

Steph said...

Blind Faith you mean. Religion plays on the minds of their followers, playing on their inseciurities. It is human nature to want to be loved, to be accepted. That's why they want to believe that there is someone out there who actually cares.They want to think that they have a reason for living. It's the same concept of an imaginary friend, really.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis or The Case for Faith/ The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel? Just wondering what your thoughts/comments might be...

Micah said...

I have read parts of both, and found them generally unconvincing, I'm afraid - too many arguments long since demolished. It might be an interesting project in the future to go through why I find them unconvincing, but we'll see if I have the time.

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Anonymous said...

well i am not christian, so i cant say much about it.
but sure can say one thing, whatever i have learnt about is..that all religion in their basic sense teach us to try to be good humans...what we need to lead a good righteous life.
its when we let religion rule our life thats bad
its when we think only our god n our religion is above all else.thats bad,,,,,
i dont know if there is god or not, but i do believe in nature....
the laws..... so whatever
i just need this someone to blame when things go wrong n to thank when i get what i want. nothing more nothing less
take care