Is Moderate, Rational Atheism a Fallacy?

English: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after ...

English: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after Maher’s talk at the Atheist Alliance International conference in Burbank, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An erudite atheist friend said recently that every atheist he knew personally, as many as a couple of hundred, and (he contended) all of the Big Name atheists:

“..have said, explicitly, that to the limited extent I outlined above (‘there may, against all the evidence so far, be a god’) they are agnostic. There is zero conflict in this position if you claim to be an evidence-based rational thinker (which most, but not all, atheists will claim).”

It was an interesting claim.

Now, while I would love to test that statement against all of the Big Name Atheists, I thought I would try it for one, possibly the biggest name, Richard Dawkins. At best, he is conflicted. While he has been frequently quoted as saying “There probably is no God,” thus sounding intellectually honest, on at least one occasion in public he has said ““You are utterly wasting your time – all of you who are indignant at being attacked about your god – because there is no god.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of intellectual honesty to which my friend alludes: it sounds like a statement of absolute faith, or at best a vacillation between two positions, one agnostic and quite acceptable in polite company, and one anti-theist, and steeped in faith.

The atheist might retort that God does not exist because his existence has not been proven. My response to that atheist is simple: we all have our standards of proof. God has met mine, he just hasn’t met yours yet.

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Pope: “It’s okay to be an Atheist”

Pope Francis met with media

Pope Francis met with media (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

Francis I, the new Roman Catholic pontiff, told an assembled crowd in Argentina yesterday that being an atheist is okay, as long as you do good.

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists could be redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: “But I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.”

I neither want nor require anyone’s permission to believe what I do. That goes for Pope Francis, to be sure, but that also goes for the atheist and the anti-theist. Nonetheless, any day I hear someone whose belief system differs with mine say “I don’t believe what you do, but as long as you try hard to be a good person, you’re okay with me,” that’s a good day.

Tolerance rocks, and this step by the Pope should be applauded. One hopes that the entire Church adopts that view toward not only atheists, but all of us whose faiths differ from Roman Catholicism.

The Scientific Jihad

In a review of Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design, Professor Christopher Norris of Cardiff University offers a riposte to Hawking’s contention that science makes philosophy redundant and philosophers a waste of space. Norris’ barbs strike deepest when he notes that Hawking takes up the tools of philosophy when the tools of science fail him.

Indeed, there is a sense in which the scientific enterprise stands or falls on the validity of counterfactual-conditional reasoning, that is to say, reasoning from what necessarily would be the case should certain conditions obtain or certain hypotheses hold. In its negative guise, this kind of thinking involves reasoning to what would have been the outcome if certain causally or materially relevant factors had not been operative in some given instance. Hawking constantly relies on such philosophical principles in order to present and justify his claims about the current and likely future course of developments in physics. Of course he is very welcome to them but he might do better to acknowledge their source in ways of thinking and protocols of valid argumentation that involve distinctly philosophical as well as scientific grounds.

Hawking and his fellow physicists declare philosophy dead, but in so doing have become philosophers, straying into a realm where science ceases to be a discipline, becoming instead systemic speculation detached from it’s own empirical foundations. The proposition has ceased to be hypothesis, and has become credo.

Hawking, in this, makes science into religion, albeit one without a deity. I suspect that what the eminent physicist finds wrong with religion and philosophy is not so much irrelevance (especially as he adopts their methods), but competitors for the hearts and minds of man. This is apparently something Hawking is unwilling to suffer. In the service of his beliefs, convinced that the ends justify him, he endeavors to de-legitimize the competition.

There is a term for such behavior when practiced among religions: jihad. How else can one describe the effort of one religion to condemn or purge opposing creeds?

It is time we follow Professor Norris’ lead and show the high priests of science that they have become the very thing they condemn.