28 October 2007

Real Scientists Tolerate Religion

Just as "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche," real scientists don't get preoccupied with refuting religious ideas. While Dan Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Vic Stenger, and Richard Dawkins logically refute the tenets of religious belief, real scientists who know better are working quietly in their labs, doing real science. Real scientists understand that important things need to be done, and they are going about doing them.

Born into a religious family, I was forced to find my own way to a more logical, atheo-agnostic view of the universe. Over a period of adolescent time, I was able to build a dynamic view of the world and the cosmos that did not require an omnipotent, ever-present deity. As I was establishing my own independent perspective, it was necessary to debate the issue of religion with friends and family members. I understood how important religion was to these people that I cared for, so I did not resort to cheap shots or arguments designed to make them feel stupid.

Dan Dennet, Sam Harris, and Chris Hitchens are not scientists by any stretch of the imagination. Vic Stenger is no longer a working scientist, so he is off the hook. And if Rich Dawkins ever did anything other than writing books and appearing on talk shows and at book signings, the evidence is sparse. By a strict definition of "real scientist", these authors who have jumped on the recent anti-religion bandwagon are innocent of the charge.

Religion and Politics are the two topics almost certain to generate heated arguments at virtually any cocktail party where the attendees are honest with each other. Hundreds of millions of people were killed over political ideologies in the past 150 years. The bloodiest, guiltiest ideology of recent decades has been communism--a totalitarian, quasi-religious political belief system based upon mythical socio-economic constructs. But Islamism--a totalitarian religious based system--is on track to plow just as bloody a furrow through the earth of history.

Religion has not been a topic to trifle with, through the ages. People will too often compromise their politics before they will openly compromise their religion. As deadly as political arguments can become, religious arguments lie even closer to the heart, cut deeper to the quick.

Religion is dangerous. So why would a real scientist tolerate religion? I am not saying that real scientists tolerate violence. If a religion (or political system) turns prodigally violent, scientists--like all good people--should oppose it.

Scientists tolerate religion because in secular western societies the threat from homegrown religions (Judaism, Christianity) has run its course. These religions are tamed, and not the source of violence and oppression as they were in the middle ages and earlier. But real scientists understand the moderating role that these seasoned religions have on the natural turmoil of individuals. (Islam is a different story, for another posting)

Ideally, religions serve as moderators and absorbers of violent instincts that might otherwise lead to chain-reaction, out of control impulsiveness. Religions serve as simple explanations for complex phenomena, and allow ordinary, non-reflective people to focus on other issues. Religion is not a problem for society unless it is violent and publicly insistent, like Islamism or the more violent anti-abortion movements.

By focusing on the rather obvious logical fallacies inherent in religion and god belief, these authors put themselves on a pedestrian, didactic level that does them no credit. What is worse, the true believers in the religions they attack (generally the old and quiet religions) are completely turned off by their aggressive, and at the same time, patronizing approach. In other words, if they are trying to change people's minds, they are wasting their time. Instead, they seem to be preaching to a rather dim, off-key choir.

While it may be amusing to feel superior to others whom you feel to be living on a lower plane of thought, in reality the joke may be on you. In fact, you should probably assume that the joke is on you--that way you will be right more often than wrong. Religion is certainly a crutch. But the crutches leaned on by those in contempt of religion are not exactly invisible.

My attitude toward the toothless religions of today is to let sleeping dogs lie. If the "evangelicals" were bombing schoolbuses and airliners full of children and travelers, I would understand this recent faddish craze of anti-religion. I feel quite anti-Islamist myself, everytime I read about another Islamist inspired atrocity. But I do not attack the many muslims that I know and work with. I tolerate their religion--even as I disagree with it.

Modern leftism--which unfortunately has largely taken over the US Democratic Party--has become a quasi-religion. It can tolerate no other religions--except under the banner of multi-culturalism, which is a highly patronizing form of "tolerance." Much of the current anti-religion bandwagon is based upon this peculiar "religious competition" ongoing in the west.

Of course I understand the issues of stem cell research, abortion rights, secular public education free of religious indoctrination, etc. These are all issues that can be dealt with as we go. There is no need to obliterate the deep, non-violent faiths of hundreds of millions of people in order to finance stem cell lines, or to safeguard anyone's rights. The overkill resorted to by Hitchens, Harris, et al has taken on the appearance of a fashionable public statement of non-faith, which has snowballed somewhat within particular pseudo-intellectual circles.

Personally, I could not care less. The arguments I constructed in my own personal journey from religious faith to atheo-agnosticism are more compelling and reasonable than most of what I have read from the above authors. Had I read one of their books at the time I was evolving intellectually, I would probably still be a religious believer. Fortunately, I found my own way out of the cave.

For me, life without "God" is far more interesting, with far greater potential for personal satisfaction in work, accomplishment, and spiritual/intellectual striving. But that is for me. For others that I know, much of their satisfaction in life and reason for living, lies in their religious faith. I would not take that away from them--why would I want to?

There are far more important things to do than to waste time correcting some of the less destructive delusions littering the landscape.

Personally, I think much of this compulsion to wipe out religion--besides coming from the jealous "religion" of leftism--comes from an immature need to publicly appear "enlightened" in comparison to another group. In the modern "PC/Multicultural" world, certain groups are off-limits, and other groups are declared "in season." In North America, white males and christians are definitely "in season." You can bag all of them that you want, with no limits on cruel or unusual punishments or collateral damage.

But these excesses of the PC/Multicult establishment in the media and academia have their consequences later. This declared war on religion will probably result in an energizing of the evangelical zeal, just as the PC oppressiveness in universities is resulting in more resistance, and reflexive anti-PC ideas.

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Blogger IConrad said...

Scientists tolerate religion because in secular western societies the threat from homegrown religions (Judaism, Christianity) has run its course.)

I do not concur. As is documented by the rise of christian evangelical theocratic dominionist impulses -- and further from Zionist pro-Israeli impulses, Judaism and Christianity remain very real and very potent existential risks to the human species.

And they deserve to be treated as such.

Sunday, 28 October, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

In comparison to what I consider very potent existential risks, I am forced to respectfully disagree.

PS: I consider "existential risks" to be risks that threaten the very existence of humanity or civilisation. Zionism does not pose such a threat in the absence of Islamism--whose Nazi-like dictates will almost certainly force a cataclysmic confrontation sooner or later.

Christianity certainly does not have the teeth to present such a threat, unless again you might refer to violent resistance to Islamist conquest or other attempt to forcefully squelch freedom of religion.

Again, the wise person lets sleeping dogs lie. By trumping up the image of a "threat" from modern, senile christianity and judaism you run the risk of creating the very threat you are hypothesizing.

Sunday, 28 October, 2007  
Blogger IConrad said...

Again, the wise person lets sleeping dogs lie. By trumping up the image of a "threat" from modern, senile christianity and judaism you run the risk of creating the very threat you are hypothesizing. I disagree, patently. Christendom in particular, with its virulent hatred of scientific progress in terms of AGI, IA -- mechanical or genetic -- and its general revilement of the scientific method, represents a very powerful existential risk. Remember; existential risks also represent things which conclude the progress of humanity: if Christendom were to gain sufficient sway over society, then we would be destroyed by the first non-terrestrial extinction level event. And, again, the theocratic/dominionist impulse is set to do exactly that. Disregarding it is how we got where we are now.

With regards to Zionism and "Islamist conquest", I'm afraid you have your tables crossed. Israel is an imperialistic nation with a nuclear arsenal. That's never safe.

Sunday, 28 October, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

I admit that I wrote this article to kick up a bit of a ruckus, but it is not worth the energy you appear (I may be imagining here) to be putting into this.

Israel is an imperialistic nation with a nuclear arsenal.

Imperialism: the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.

Given that Israel since 1967 has given up more territory than it presently holds, I suspect a contradiction somewhere.

Tiny modern Israel, surrounded by hundreds of millions of virulently hostile tribal peoples--sorry. If it were me, nuclear power would not be a strong enough defense. I would go for googolicious overkill instead!

Sunday, 28 October, 2007  
Blogger Dennis Mangan said...

iconrad is off his rocker. Christians don't fly airplanes into skyscrapers nor do they set off car bombs. I worked at a Christian hospital in an African country that was half Muslim, and I didn't see any Muslim hospitals there.

Sunday, 28 October, 2007  
Blogger Ugh said...

Al, quite a nice piece you wrote here. I appreciate people who have examined religion and chosen to abstain without becoming hostile. You know I used to smoke cigarettes years ago, but have not become a anti-smoking nazi. While the analogy is a bit of stretch I am sure my smoker friends appreciate not seeing my finger wagging at them.

Likewise, I get a kick out of the authors and media pundits alike who think the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and heaven forbid Joel Osteen are a threat to our way of life in the same vein as Osama and Ahmadinejad.

Anyway very, very nice piece...

Tuesday, 30 October, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks, Craig.

Interesting perspective, Dennis. It is unfortunate that Islam spends its "charitable funds" to spread violence and hatred, rather than to do actual charitable work.

As for as Conrad, he has a lot of fresh and sound ideas on his blog--which I am happy to link.

There is not a person in the world with whom I agree on every possible issue. I consider that a good thing, since I never want to stop thinking and learning.

Tuesday, 30 October, 2007  
Blogger Billy Oblivion said...

You are willfully ignorant of both history and present, and your arguments are sophmoric and myopic (if that is not redundant).

You paint "all of Christendom" with the beliefs of a few snake handling morons, as if the words of a barely literate preacher in Kansas and a Catholic Bishop are informed by the same sources.

And Al, you're not much better.

The reason "Scientists tolerate religion" is because many scientists *are* religious. I've had friends (for lack of a more accurate word) who were pursuing advanced degrees in Physics, Biology and Chemistry who were devout Christians of various flavors (Mostly Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopalian).

But that's just now.

Looking back though history it's the Christian Churches who built the Universities and the Colleges that built western science.

I could go on, but either you know better, or I'm wasting my time.

And no, I'm not a Christian--I haven't the faith. But I do have the intelligence, understanding and humility to realize that *I* could be wrong.

Tuesday, 30 October, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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