Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Science v Spirituality (1)

Thanks to the likes of Richard "I'm a conceited and fundamentalist twat" Dawkins, anyone who holds any belief in any form of spiritual existence is perceived to be in direct contradiction to that other great deity ... the almighty God of Science. According to Dicky (in his wad of toilet paper entitled "The God Delusion"), by applying the omnipotent scientific method and the omniscient Occam's Razor we can prove ... yes by God, PROVE that atheism is an infallible doctrine. What a knob!

Let's look at the concept of atheism. I've interacted with a number of so-called atheists and it would appear that the vast majority of them don't even understand what the term means. "Atheism" literally means "NO gods". None. Zero. Zilch. Now that's a pretty big claim to make isn't it. I mean here we are, a species that has practically just dragged itself out of the primordial soup and we have people like Dicky with the unmitigated gall to think that we now have the intellectual balls to make such grandiose pronouncements. That's a level of small minded pomposity that even the most fundamental evangelical preacher would struggle to achieve. If you push an atheist hard enough what you'll actually find is someone who merely despises religion, in all it's forms. I don't think they realise that they aren't really atheists at all, they're actually "anti-theists". If only they were honest enough to say so and identify themselves as such I could respect them a whole lot more. Disproving Christian claims is one thing (and so easy to do) but to claim to know that there is NO god whatsoever is a little ... batshit crazy?

Now that whole Occam's Razor thing. I don't think Dicky and his rabid crowd of supporters understands the limits of this basically philosophical "tool". For those who aren't familiar with it, Occam's Razor is a principal which basically states that the most straight forward and uncomplicated solution to any problem is almost certainly the correct solution. What atheists tend to not realise is that you can only apply this principal correctly if you have sufficient knowledge and understanding. To explain, imagine you're back in medieval times and someone told you that the Earth was a globe. Well, you could easily use Occam's Razor to show that this is nonsense. The simplest scenario that matches observation would be that the Earth is flat. Pah ... so much for the glorious and omniscient Occam's Razor.

In my oh-so-important opinion, the only rational stance to take on the question of the existence of any form of "God" or higher being is pure agnosticism. All that means is that at our current state of evolution and development, I believe that it's impossible to know if there is such a higher being or not. Thanks to Dicky though, agnosticism is now considered to be a dirty word used by "pussy atheists". What a great disservice to true science and spirituality this man has done. I'm sure he's the man when it comes to evolutionary biology but when it comes to religion and matters of a spiritual nature the man's a small minded wind bag.

I have a fair bit more to say on this whole issue of "science v spirituality" (and it'll probably involve a whole lot more Dawkins bashing) but in the interests of keeping my entries short(ish) I'll continue with this subject in my next post.

Namaste :P


  1. I don’t find your post to be fair to atheists. Although I may try to correct beliefs that I think are wrong, I still respect people who are religious/spiritual. I appreciate the role that religion/spirituality has played in the development of human society, culture, art, etc. In the “primitive” stateless societies that have actually existed, religious sanctions played an important role along with diffuse sanctions in maintaining social cohesion. I respect the existence of religious thought even though I disagree with its validity. I haven’t paid Richard Dawkins all that much attention, but I can see where his blunt, abrasive, confrontational style could be off-putting--even to those interested in hearing his ideas. As an anarchist however, I do think that Dawkins is right to point out the potential and realized negative consequences of unquestionable religious dogma. Some can definitely take their negativity towards religion/spirituality too far. While not all of us reach evangelical levels, most of us are trying to convert people to some extent or at least approach genuine understanding. I try not to be condescending when I think others are wrong. I only engage people who are interested in questioning their own beliefs. If an atheist were claiming that “religious people can’t be moral,” I’d denounce him or her just as strongly as I would a religious person claiming that “atheists can’t be moral.“

    I think those who call themselves “atheist” actually are. Saying otherwise seems to border along the misguided notion that atheists don’t really exist. “They are all just angry and rebelling against religion without any real rejection or understanding of faith-based thinking.” I don’t see this bait-and-switch of atheists really being anti-theists. I don’t see why being “anti-theist” (one who believes theism is dangerous or destructive) cannot coexist with being an atheist. Some atheists are anti-theists while others are not. Likewise, some theists can be anti-atheist and believe that increasing atheism makes the world worse off. I don’t think it is accurate to say that atheists don’t know the meaning of the word “atheist.” An atheist is simply someone who lacks belief in god(s). Even Buddhism, while spiritual, contains some schools of thought that some could consider atheistic because there is no belief in god(s). Some don’t even consider the words “atheist” and “agnostic” to be mutually exclusive.

    To pure agnostics I ask, “how do we know that we don’t know or can never know?” Can agnosticism be proven wrong? It seems like the bar can be endlessly raised to say, “we don’t know and/or can never know.“ It seems contradictory when the faithful or agnostic try to criticize atheism by calling it another dogmatic faith. To me it seems a matter of practicality that we come to some tentative conclusion in some direction based on the evidence we currently have at hand. You can come to conclusions without becoming dogmatic. Science is not treated as a deity. The conclusions reached by using the scientific method are open to change. I’m not going to say that there are no dogmatic atheists out there, but I do believe that most of us retain that element of doubt that is often lacking in religious/spiritual beliefs. It doesn’t seem insane to me to tentatively conclude that gods, unicorns, leprechauns, etc. don’t exist until evidence arises supporting otherwise. The atheist claims nothing. The theist makes a truth-claim trying to explain something and the atheist asks for proof. Unless you presuppose the Truth, existence, and existential importance of god(s), there is no reason to consider atheism a “big claim.” Atheists don’t consider it any bigger than being an a-unicornist, a-leprechaunist, etc. That’s not meant to be condescending, but that is just how atheists view these things. I think that a lot of the friction occurring is due to simple misunderstanding.

  2. Hey SilentRadical ... thanks for taking the time to post such an extensive comment. I'll respond as best I can here but some of your points I intend to cover in future posts.

    Firstly your correct, I wasn't being fair to atheists. I didn't intend to be. I was attempting to be about as fair to atheists as they (generally) are to agnostics and theists.

    As far as Richard (may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits) Dawkins is concerned, I concede that the last two chapters of his diatribe "The God Delusion" were very interesting and balanced. In them he explores the nature of religion and attempts to explain how the phenomenon "evolved" with us. If he had stuck to that soap-box instead of relying on a vast amount of strawman argumentation (more on that in future posts) I'd have no issue with him. However, I cannot forgive him for is his totally spurious attempt to use science to disprove the existence of any god whatsoever. By the way, I'm aware of the fact that he rates himself as only a level six atheist on a scale of 1 to 7 but you wouldn't think so reading the rest of his (what I maintain to be) fundamentalist nonsense.

    In regard to the term "atheist" I'm afraid I find it disingenuous to state that it means "a lack of belief in gods". I'm sorry but in my opinion that's pure semantic sophistry. In what meaningful way does that differ from "believing that no gods exist". It's saying exactly the same thing in a different way. This is another piece of puerile philosophy endorsed and promoted by Dawkins for which there can be no excuse.

    I have absolutely no problem with people challenging religion and pointing out the harmful effect it has and indeed is having on people but I simply cannot condone people like Dawkins hiding behind the skirts of science to do so.

    Finally, this strawman nonsense (I'm sorry but that's precisely what it is) which states that agnostics might as well be agnostic about unicorns or fairies is going to be the topic of my next post.

    I hope I haven't offended you in this reply. Please be assured that was NOT my intent. It's just that sometimes plain talking saves time. Thanks again for reading and commenting. =)

  3. I haven’t done a thorough reading of Richard Dawkins’ work, so I can’t comment on any of that. Whatever he believes, I doubt he is deserving of so much hatred. As long as Dawkins doesn’t support using the state-government to impose his beliefs or mistreat people I am not really all that concerned. In any case, I’ll just stick to defending what I believe. I think there are plenty of atheists who are fair to agnostics and theists, just as I think there are plenty of agnostics and theists that are fair to atheists.

    Also, let’s not lose sight of the fact that atheists are considered the most hated minority in America and have been mistreated and discriminated against throughout the ages. Many theists just won’t treat atheists equally and let them live their lives peacefully. Many atheists today live in fear, anger, and frustration at being forced to lie about and/or hide their beliefs. The spewing of some venom by atheists should be quite understandable in light of these facts. Likewise, in the civil rights, gay rights, anti-globalization, feminist, anarchist, and other movements realize the need for fiery rhetoric and actions to get people seriously listening to their concerns. I don’t think it serves either side to be unfair to the other.

    You are right that it is a matter of semantics to say that atheism means a “lack of belief in god(s)” instead of that “no god(s) exist.” Atheism means both. Atheism can be implicit or explicit. There really isn't such a thing as a "purely" negative statement. A negative claim necessarily entails a positive claim, and vice versa. However, I do believe that this particular atheist attempt at differential semantics is rooted in the very real understanding that atheism is the default position. Think of it this way. Imagine going back in history to a time before the first human ever conceived of some kind of god(s). It seems to me that everyone must have logically been an atheist at that time. Of course they didn’t know they were atheists “without god(s)” because the concept of god(s) hadn’t even been created yet. Even today we can observe that we are all born implicit atheists. Theistic beliefs require indoctrination. So we can see that the positive theist claim that god(s) exist must have logically come before the positive atheist claim that “god(s) do not exist.”

    Timeline: implicit atheists (without gods), then theists, then explicit atheists (gods do not exist)

    Now that theists exist, atheists have to make positive counter-claims against those made by theists. Now we have to explain that a god defined that way is self-contradictory or lacks any meaningful explanatory power. We must say, “That god does not exist.” We can go about proving the negative that “no square circles exist” or that “no cat exists in this box.” We can say that god(s) do not exist where we have looked so far. We can take the predictions made by theistic concepts and show that they do not occur. We can disprove aspects of gods defined certain ways, but it is still accurate to point out that the burden of proof lies with the theist initially making these huge untested claims. The theist proposes an explanation for existence where once there was none. The theist is clearly making a much bigger claim than the atheist who understands that we have a changing, organic, fragmentary understanding of existence.

  4. SilentRadical ... thank you once again for taking the time and effort to post such a well thought out and reasonable response. I am afraid that you are showing me up to be the grumpy old bastard that I am. Hahaha.

    Whilst I admire your clarity I disagree with you on quite a number of your points. However, I'm going through a bit of a shitty time right now battling depression because of an imminent personal battle of self defence which I am waging against the state, one which involves going to yet another "medical" tomorrow. I hope you don't mind but I'm going to have to wait a few days before attempting to provide a full response. Give me a few days and I'll hopefully be able to give your remarks the time and consideration which they deserve. Peace bro.

  5. Right then SilentRadical. I have a bit of mental real estate and free space with which to give you a decent response. =)

    I don't hate Dicky, I merely detest him, meaning that I have a severe deficit of respect for the man. My reason is because in my opinion he's perverting true science by claiming that atheism is scientific when it clearly isn't, it's a system of belief.

    I'm completely aware of the fact that atheists get a raw deal in the USA. This does not condone their methods (which are not helping their case at all). It's understandable why they have reacted in this way and yet this doesn't make them right to act in the way that they do. I'll certainly be trying to cover this as fairly as possible in future entries.

    In regard to "strong" or "positive" atheism etc, I find it telling to note that in scientific terms "agnosticism" needs no such qualifying descriptors. I repeat that atheism is a belief system whereas agnosticism can be seen to be purely scientific. Also I maintain that in science, the default null position should lead someone to agnosticism.

    You see this is the entire point of my assault on Dawkins and this false perception that he's spreading which (if only by VERY strong asociation) equates atheism with science. I'm taking a short break from this topic for a while but I'll be returning to it eventually. I'm currently re-reading "The God Delusion" so that I have a more imminent perspective. If you can get hold of a copy it would be great if you could read it too. I'll prolly return to this topic next month sometime and when I do please keep in mind that I'm not attacking atheists for their beliefs, merely for the way they act and for conflating that belief with scientific rigour.

    Please do continue to post your thoughts and remarks as they are very well constructed and are helping me enormously in framing my arguments correctly. Peace.

  6. In my reply above I meant to say that I despise Dicky, not detest him. LOL. Freudian slip much? =P