Religion vs. Atheism

I read an interesting article the other day, in Salon. It includes quotations from Lawrence Krauss, suggesting that religion could be gone in a generation. One salient quote:

Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.

There is so much wrong in this one sentence, I can’t even… To start, change is sometimes a generation (or shorter) away, and often not. But what’s more important, I think, is the attitude that many atheists have (some, most? I don’t know how common this is, but it certainly is common among the “new atheists”) about religion. To them, religion at worst are these big, fundamentalist systems that deny science, and do horrible things in the name of God, and at best are some stupid fairy tales that people use as a crutch to give their lives meaning.

I want to start with the flaw in the fundamental premise that many (most?) atheists espouse: atheism as the rational, logical conclusion based on what we’ve learned about science. I have nothing against atheists, just like I have nothing against anyone who believes in anything else. That’s the key. Atheism is a belief, just like any other. The scientific method doesn’t have in its toolkit a way to investigate the divine (especially since there are gazillions of ways that people define  it.) The only logical, rational conclusion based on science is “who the frakk knows?” Anything else is belief.

Second, what is “religion” anyway? As you see above, there are a couple of definitions that apply here. First “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It’s funny, by this definition, I’m not actually  religious (I take issue with the phrase “controlling power”.) The second is “a particular system of faith and worship.” Ah, that’s pretty broad. I think in modern life, people who consider themselves religious are those that are part of big systems – the Catholic church, some form of protestantism, islam, etc. The rest, if they choose, often call themselves “spiritual” which has probably as many meanings as there are people who call themselves that. But it’s really important to say that not all religions deny scientific truth. Not all religions tell you exactly what to believe. Not all religions do horrible things in the name of their god/s. (And, of course, the “new atheists” hardly mention Stalin, Mao, and the Kmer Rouge.)

One of the things about being human is that it’s pretty frakking mysterious. How did we get here? Why are we here? What’s the point? What meaning does my life have? These are questions that can’t really be answered by science, probably because we as human beings aren’t really equipped to understand them (that’s my belief.) People will always be searching for an answer.

And what is planting “seeds of doubt” in children? Teaching them science? Again, the assumption is that all of the children of religious parents deny science. Nothing is further from the truth. Certainly, in some parts of the country, there are plenty of parents whose religion denies science (in odd ways: they will get a vaccination, but they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Go figure.)

For me, the fundamental issue with this article and the writings and attitudes of current “new atheists” is that it’s not a conversation among perceived equals. They think they are better/smarter/whatever than people who are “religious.” But in fact, there are plenty of religious people who are smart, open-minded, and fully and completely accept the findings of science. Just talk to some Jesuits or Sufis, would you? Or talk to me. 🙂

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