On talking shite!

This post originally contained retaliatory comments pertaining to a dispute that arose from a difference of opinion in this blog. However, as the matter has been resolved, and in response to an act of graciousness, I have happily edited to remove any such comments that might also have been deemed potentially insulting to anybody. For one, I consider it valuable that we are able to discuss the science-religion crossover on Nature Network; however, I concur that perhaps we all need to measure our approach accordingly from time to time.


There recently occurred a somewhat tetchy exchange provoked by a difference of opinion on points made in this blog. A colleague of mine has remarked to me that comments made by my objector were “funny” (in the confused sense). Perhaps; and I might by now be thinking as much, had the matter rested there. However, it hasn’t, giving me cause to ponder on this occasionally during that five-minute lonely time shortly after breakfast. It’s a pity, because, from what I’ve read, it seems that there is some common ground. But, I’m not going to appeal to that here; rather, due to the ‘asymmetry’ that has developed, I feel it necessary to attempt to restore some element of balance.

Advocation of science as the source of all knowledge, the cure for all ills, and the only explanation for every aspect of the human condition, is not to be found in this blog. I do not argue that science cannot be conducted by the religious; although I do baulk at anything that limpets religious explanation onto scientifically-derived knowledge, and at tub-thumping lobbyists who exert undue influence on science and education policies, and on artistic expression. An assumption that all religious people are idiots – as has been assumed – is likewise not evident here. However, I don’t hold that we should automatically pay heed to our religious authority figures. The Archbishop of Canterbury is doubtless a very intelligent man with a cracking CV, but, though he speaks eight languages, has occasionally demonstrated he can still talk drivel. And the scientific-justification-for-atrocities-commited-by-malign-atheistic-ideologies argument did not impress me when I first heard it from the mouth of a Templeton Prize winner, and I’m no more impressed by it now.

Eloquent prose and Gould-ian flourishes make for a lovely read, but cannot wallpaper over what amounts to an attempt to somehow substantiate faith by trouncing atheists as cretinous, somehow sub-human, with a hole for a soul. The religious should be wary, distrustful, stand-off-ish, because atheists are seemingly portrayed as the personification of the anti-Christ or some such, come to mock and pour scorn on all this faith nonsense. God forbid that obviously ignorant, uninformed, knuckle-dragging retards should have the audacity to ask questions, to seek clarification, to disagree, to challenge. The indignant vocal shift, the anger, the defensiveness. A barrier gets raised: You can’t go past here. How are we to understand, if we’re not allowed to inquire? Untouchability wields a big shovel.

Atheism is not new. It’s been around for ages, used by one religion to disparagingly label adherents of another who believe differently. Funny, then, this coalition of the religious that decries atheism now. ‘Scientific atheism’ is not a term I’ve endorsed; indeed, it is not a term that makes sense to me (although I find it no more nonsensical than ‘rational religion’). It is not the raison d’être of science to purposely discredit religion. Science is a-theistic. It is not concerned with notions of the supernatural; however, it has, as it happens, displaced long-cherished doctrines as bogus, because that is where the weight of evidence leads.

If you’ve never been atheist, then you have no understanding of what it means. I’ve no interest in disproof of any notion of a god, because (to paraphrase Laplace) I don’t feel the need. We can’t ultimately prove or disprove anything. I don’t find invoking Bertrand Russell’s orbiting teapot here very interesting. More stimulating is Nick Bostrom’s idea of us living in a computer ancestor simulation, which postulates that, if our species is not doomed to extinction before technological maturity, and that technologically mature civilisations are interested in creating ancestor simulations, then we are almost certainly simulated minds living in a computer simulation. Ridiculous? Only because it’s controversial. What do the ramifications mean? That God is the simulator? That God delegated our simulated creation to intermediaries (with or without supervisory intervention)? That God is simulated? Or that God is a by-product of our simulation? I’m ‘sure’ there must be other ‘possibilities’. Such notions would be blasphemy to many, not so to others. But our notions of God are a flux, and it is largely science that catalyses this. Which god should be falsified if the onus is on the atheist? It makes no difference whether or not we should prove or disprove, because we are too technologically immature in order to be able to do so.

The argument that atheism is just another unprovable faith position is, in my opinion, desperately facile. However, if those adamant that atheism is just another belief system, and that beliefs are to be respected, then, well, isn’t atheism as deserving of respect? Double standards. The whiff of arrogance does not come from my armpits. Tell you what, why don’t we all just admit to agnosticism, chill out and get on with each other? Be so much easier.

I uphold anybody’s right to believe whatever they want (or need). I appreciate that there are deep-rooted reasons for faith positions, and I don’t suggest they should be forcibly mined from our psyche. However, I also uphold anybody’s right to criticise that belief. Don’t patronisingly tell me that my view of the world or way of life is any less valid or worthy.


4 responses to “On talking shite!

  1. I’ll get the popcorn, shall I? I expect at least three uses of all capitals, otherwise I’ll demand my money back.

  2. Lee – I don’t want to get into this debate because I don’t think it goes anywhere. It is certainly possible to be totally anti-creationist and anti-ID while still having a religious belief, and equally to think that Richard Dawkins talks a load of rubbish on the subject, and turns lots of people off science with his arrogance, while being an atheist.
    I just don’t think those with a religious belief should slag off atheists (or agnostics – where are you, agnostics???), nor that atheists should make belittling remarks about those with religious beliefs.
    One thing I don’t understand in the above is your comment If you’ve never been atheist, then you have no understanding of what it means. Does that mean I have no idea what iguana means as well? I’m not trying to be smart, I’m genuinely puzzled – I think I do know what atheist means.

  3. Brian – I meant … of what it means to be an atheist. It was a retaliatory remark to the opposite comment I’d read about people who have no idea of what it means to be religious. I think it can be applied both ways.


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