Sunday, October 22, 2006

Assertive atheism: a 21st century cult

The Nov 2006 (14.11) issue of Wired headlines the assertive atheism movement most closely identified with Richard Dawkins. I've seen aspects of this over the past few months, especially in blogs like Pharyngula. The Wired article clarifies something that had puzzled me -- the aggressive attitude of the Dawkinites towards rationalists who are respectful of religious sentiment. To the Dawkinites, such sympathy is heresy.

The journalist ends up deciding heresy is an odd partner to rationalism, and that the Dawkinites have more than a few aspects of the religions they abhore. I agree. To be quick about it, I part company in many respects from this 21st century cult:
  1. I've not seen any persuasive evidence that the nastiness in humanity is particularly related to religion. Sure many theists are nasty, but the simplest explanation is that humans are nasty. Our nervous systems are an evolutionary kludge that barely holds together, we have a lot of chimpiness to us, we're just nasty, brutish and of variable height.

  2. We don't have a robust theory yet of the early history of the universe (quantum gravity and more), so there's still room for at least a designed universe. There's also those pesky theories that our "world" is a simulation, these speculations might yet be testable. There's not really any difference between an entity outside of a simulation and a supreme being. Lastly, there's the Fermi Paradox - the last, best, argument for design.

  3. There does not appear to be any rational derivation of ethics, rather we create ethical systems as a post hoc explanatory framework for our actions. We don't really know how well the bulk of humanity (not just the "brights") would do when all "ethical" systems are equally valid and arbitrary.

  4. It's a tough universe. Hellish for many. Really, the truth is overvalued. A comforting story is nothing to sniff at; denial is not just the proverbial river. Sure Dawkins claims he's fine staring reality in the face (I wonder how clear his vision is?), but most of us do not do so well.

  5. I like studying human religious systems -- from cult to traditional doctrine. That gives me some sympathy for the practice as well as theory of religion.

  6. Many of my favorite people are theists. I don't like to cause them suffering.

  7. Dawkins is mean. Rude too. Not nice. Nice is good, especially given our fundamental natures.

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