Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Trouble with Atheism

Not too long ago, I watched an interesting documentary on Google Video called "The Trouble with Atheism" by Ron Liddle. You can catch it here.

This is a UK production and it features some famous and learned men like Prof. Richard Dawkins, Prof. Peter Atkins, Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne and Rev Dr. Alistair McGrath. The presenter, Ron Liddle, isn't trying to argue that atheism is wrong and Christianity is right, but he seems to be advocating fence-sitting. Perhaps he's pro-agnosticism?

The subject of belief and disbelief is always interesting but I find that the documentary failed to present any strong arguments. One of his points is that the world will not be a better place if everyone became atheists. He tried to show how some atheists are arrogant and as intolerable as religious bigots. I think that is unfair because atheism has never claimed that it can and will solve the world's problems. Atheism isn't a faith, rather it is a lack of faith.

A major part of the documentary was used to attack atheism's over-reliance on science. He argued that since science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, it is a matter of personal choice whether to become a believer or a disbeliever. This is very true, but it does imply that before you decide whether or not to believe in God, you first need to read both the scientific and religious texts. So much science. So many religions. How many people actually do that? Most people do just the opposite. They first decide whether they believe or not and then they let their decision determine the books they read. I remember Sam Harris mentioned that over 90% of the members of the National Academy of Science are atheists while 90% of the US population are theists which reinforces my point that majority of people don't know enough science to make an informed decision about their personal belief in God.

Next of course, you can't talk about atheism without mentioning Darwinism. Ron Liddle says atheists are pushing Darwinism too far, when they're using it to explain everything, for example, using memes to explain morality and the survival of religion (He should first read The Selfish Gene). He says that one day in the not too distant future, Darwin's theories will be comprehensively rewritten and accepted by the scientific community as such i.e. a paradigme shift. Honestly, I don't quite get his point here. It really doesn't matter if Darwin's theories get rewritten, as long as they are backed by evidence. You certainly can't say the same about religion. Today, we see so many religious sects and denominations just because some people had divine 'visions'.

Finally, Ron Liddle talked about the history of eugenics and its links to Darwinism. Today, we don't actively engage in eugenic practices because we have ethics. It's true that science doesn't offer us any moral guidance so atheists are looking to derive moral codes based on reason and those moral codes may change with time. Again, I don't quite get his point because I don't see this as a problem with atheism. I don't believe in an absolute moral code. Don't forget that atheism hasn't been around that long, compared to the religions of the world. Despite some hiccups, our moral code does improve gradually. Just look at racism, feminism and gay rights.

So, at the end of the day, fence-sitting is fine... but Ron, fence-sitting won't solve the world's problems either!

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6 Comments:

At 2:15 PM, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I really think that the question whether god/gods do(es) exist should be a scientific question, and that if god(s) exist(s) it must be proven through science.. But that's just my opinion...

 
At 10:22 AM, April 21, 2007, Blogger Meursault said...

Ideally it should be so. But just as the Flying Teapot argument, there are many things science can't prove or disprove. What science can do is to slowly explain away events or phenomena that used to be attributed to God e.g. planetary motion, origin of species, etc.

 
At 8:30 PM, August 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly I feel your rebuttel missed the grand thesis of the argument. First we had religious zelots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, now we have atheist zelots such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Before evolution there was the theory of the infinite universe that was used to debunk religion; because it posited that the universe always had been therefore there was no creation but the Big Bang theory disproved that. So I am going to receive evolution as gospel knowing western science huge history of origin mythologies that eventually get debunked by some other theory?

I can give various examples where both scientific theories and fact have been proven wrong. The cow milk disaster, the Olestra scandel, and various other problems that occured when science was received as gospel.

I personally believe that its impossible for the whole world to be atheist because if religion was that fickle then it would have been wiped out by now. My theory revolves around spiritual food; which is something I feel all people need. The problem becomes when obsession with ideology dominates rationality. Maoism is a good example of non-religous moralist philosophy that became militant atheism. Again it is obsession with ideology that is what oppresses people

 
At 4:38 AM, August 18, 2007, Blogger Meursault said...

Firstly, thanks for your comment, but I don't think Darwinism and the Big Bang theory are describing the same thing. Darwinism doesn't describe how the universe came to be or how life first began on Earth.

I also don't think it's fair to equate a scientific theory to a mythology. A scientific theory goes through rigorous checks and refinement while a mythology is just a belief that is passed from generation to generation.

No scientist will deny that 100 years from now, the human understanding of Darwinism or the Big Bang will be vastly different from our understanding today. But that is the beauty of science! As new evidence comes in, we continually refine and improve the theory. Whenever a scientific theory is disproved, a new one that takes into account the new evidence, is formulated to replace it. Remember, when a theory is debunked a scientific advancement is made.

This is the complete opposite of how religion works. Fundamentalist Christians for example, cling on to the creation story of the Bible, totally ignoring mountains and mountains of contradictory evidence. Is this a better way of arriving the truth?

I disagree that ALL people need "spiritual food", though I do think that MOST people do. But just because people need religion doesn't make it true. Just because believing in a god/gods gives you strength and comfort, doesn't mean the god/gods are real.

 
At 12:47 AM, January 19, 2011, Blogger artemisworks said...

Well it is interesting that the one example you have used to illustrate how one reaches 'truth' i.e through an evolution of theories, you chose fundamentalist Christianity - which, like ALL fundamentalist religions, can be quite easily and rationally debunked. When you select unworthy opponents such as these, it's no wonder you always win the arguments!

 
At 1:14 AM, January 19, 2011, Blogger Meursault said...

@artemisworks Ok. Go write your arguments in your own blog.

 

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