Posted on 14 May 2012.
I often facepalm hard whenever I see news outlets try to present “balanced views” on their programs. Usually they pit expert and scientific opinion (by giving them 5 minutes) vs the views of the Average Joe (and giving them the rest of the program), and then ask the viewers to “decide for themselves”, as if all opinions are of equal merit.
Unfair as it may sound, not all opinions are equal. When you want to build a house, do you ask a random guy on the street, or do you ask an architect? How about when you’re sick? Or need to have a contract checked? Do you ask the experts or do you ask random people?
It’s called “False Balance”. It may sound good and egalitarian, but giving airtime to those who have very little understanding about a specific subject is a great disservice to the rest of us. Not all views and opinions are valid, and some are more valid than others.
When Fox News (surprise!) gives moon landing hoaxers or anti-vaccination nutjobs a platform to spread their inanity, it gives them false credibility as an equal and valid opinion. When Larry King gives UFO conspiracy theorists airtime, the general public will likely perceive that both sides have equal merit.
I’m sorry to say, Andy, that when I read “Middle Ground”, I saw False Balance written all over it. Inadvertently or not, you used False Balance as a crutch to support theistic views while appearing to be “neutral”. The fact is, your views fall squarely into the Theist side.
I’d like to take a few minutes to point out where I disagree.
But if atheism is defined as “ the rejection of belief in the existence of deities“, I don’t think I’m quite there yet. So far, the atheism that I have seen is first and foremost, a rejection of the Christian deity (or the Christian definition of god as portrayed in the Bible). So far also, most of the atheists that I know who are actively espousing their non-belief come from some sort of Christian background. I do not know of any prominent atheist who started out as a muslim, a jew, a hindu, or a druid.
Atheism, in the broadest sense, is simply “a lack of belief in deities”. It’s not necessarily a “rejection” of belief in deities. Newborn babies are technically atheists, because they are incapable of forming a belief in deities. They can’t reject what they can’t even conceive of yet. There’s a simple question you can ask to determine if someone is an atheist. Just ask them: “Do you believe in the existence of a supernatural deity?”. If one cannot answer “Yes”, then one is an atheist.
Andy, I find it quite disingenuous of you to lump us all as just “Atheists” as if that word alone is enough to describe us all. You can only glean one thing when a person says that he/she is an atheist: That the person does not believe in deities. That’s it. Atheism says nothing about my personal beliefs, wants, hopes, and dreams. It says nothing about my attitudes towards other people. It says nothing about my views about myself and the world we live in.
Most atheists (not all mind you!) are skeptics, humanists, naturalists, secularists or a combination of them. It is from this point of view that I am responding to this article of yours.
My friend, the biggest reason most atheists you know come from a Christian background is because you live in a country that is predominantly Christian. The second reason is probably because you haven’t done much research on atheists and atheism. Maybe that’s why you’ve never heard of Salman Rushdie, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sanal Edamaruku. (Atheist Jews are a dime a dozen, if you care to do the research)
Because of this, most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity. Once that is done, this disbelief in god is expanded in a less hostile fashion to other religions (Islam is probably next in line in terms of getting atheist flak).
“Less hostile fashion”? How so? I am just as critical of Islam as I am of Christianity or any other religion that wishes to force itself upon all of us. It’s just that we almost never hear about non-Christian fundies here in our country.
However, just because an atheist has written off the existence of the Christian god does not automatically mean that there is no god of any sort. What is “god” after all, but just a word people use to represent and define some unknown higher power? People have tried to define this god by using words such as creator, source, omniscient and omnipotent. They have tried to characterize this god by attributes such as loving, kind, just, merciful, and so on. But these are just words,
I agree with much of what you say here…
and I believe in the possibility of a being that exists beyond these words.
…but I’d have to ask for proof here. Just because it’s “possible” doesn’t mean we should entertain it, much less assume it to be real, especially when facts and evidence point the other way. It’s much more possible that a ten meter asteroid would suddenly crash on your head right now, but will you bet on it? Will you hide in a bunker for the rest of your life just because it’s “possible”?
There is a lovely zen saying that goes, “When the sage points to the moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” The words and concepts we have for god are just parts of the finger pointing to something possibly out there, possibly greater than ourselves.
Lovely quote Andy, but we have proof that the moon exists. We have no proof that gods exist. Your analogy fails in this regard.
I cannot explain it other than saying that there is a feeling, an inner sense of something more profound than words can express.
Then what is the difference between your inner sense and the inner sense that tells Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc that THEIR religion is real? What makes your inner sense more valid than theirs? Because that is EXACTLY the same thing they will tell you about THEIR beliefs. It’s EXACTLY what they will use to say why YOU’RE wrong, and THEY’RE right.
You see, that is the reason why we atheists do not believe in gods. There is no evidence other than anecdotes. And the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.
When Christians and atheists fight over doctrines and belief systems, it is like watching them fight over the pointing finger. It is briefly amusing and I won’t deny deriving a bit of satisfaction seeing my former belief questioned. However, this can’t go on forever. If we keep fighting over the finger, we will never get to see the moon.
Again, this presupposes that there IS actually a god of some sort. I suppose you feel a bit smug and superior watching us “fight over doctrines and belief systems”, but we atheists/agnostics don’t fight over doctrine and dogma. We fight against it.
For the atheists, ask yourselves whether it is possible to have a being higher than yourself. This being does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have. If you think about the universe and what we yet don’t know about it, you’d have to at least consider the possibility of such a being, else you would be as close-minded as the fundamentalist you so despise.
You’re working under the assumption that all atheists ” believe there is no god”. The truth is, the vast majority of us only “disbelieve in gods”. Even the so-called militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens allow for the small possibility that there might be a god. We realize we don’t know everything, unlike many devout believers.
And what do you mean by “being higher than ourselves”? In terms of what? Technology? Physical or mental capability? I think it is likely that aliens exist somewhere in the universe (and no, I don’t believe they’ve visited us already). Maybe they have greater technology, or greater mental and physical abilities, but they’d still be governed by the laws of nature. Also remember, we call ourselves A-THEISTS,not A-ALIENISTS. If you broaden your definition of “god” so much that you include mortal beings from other star systems, then you have rendered the term “god” meaningless.
As for your suggestion that we open our minds to the possibility that there might be a god, we’ve already done that. Give us solid proof of your god, and we’ll believe. However, worshiping him/her/it is another matter and I assure you, a far more difficult one to get us to do.
I believe in a middle ground, a place of mutual respect, where acceptance triumphs over bigotry, and where love triumphs over fear. After all, if we humans don’t get our act together, who will do it for us?
And so we go back to my original point. What you’re espousing is False Balance. In the Science vs Religion debate, one is supported by facts, reason, and evidence, and the other is backed by dogma, faith, and ideology. There is NO BALANCE there.
No my friend, yours is not the middle ground. Yours is the ground that enables the theist to make ridiculous claims without fear of backlash because it gives religious opinion equal weight vs scientific fact. Yours is the ground that enables extremists to commit horrible acts because it minimizes the efforts made by saner heads to expose extremism for what it is. Yours is the ground that enables Creationists to scream “teach the controversy“, “teach both sides”, and “evolution is just a theory” and actually be taken seriously. Yours is the ground that is smugly amused and snickers equally at both the side that brought us modern technology, medicine, and the Green Revolution and the side that upholds bigotry, fear, and blind obedience.
No, the middle ground isn’t yours. The middle ground is atheism/agnosticism/secularism. You are free to believe whatever you want so long as you do not force it upon everyone else. The only reason we are vocal and sometimes angry is because religion repeatedly tries to force itself upon our daily lives, when we just want to be left alone. If religion did not impinge upon our freedoms, you wouldn’t hear from us about it at all.
And no, the enemy of Theism isn’t Atheism. The enemy of Theism is Theism itself. What greater enemy does a religion have than other competing religions? Nothing incites a mob better than telling them that “Our God wants them destroyed”.
Besides, since when has religion ever fought for “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”? Slavery, misogyny, bigotry, infanticide, genocide and all the other evils of the world are espoused in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is being used today to block the Reproductive Health Bill in our country (and the Quran used to justify misogyny in Islamic countries) the same way it was used back then in the United States to try to keep slavery legal.
In the words of UK Labour MP Jamie Reed:
“Seven years as an MP. Still waiting for a Christian to send me a letter on child poverty. Plenty on homosexuality and abortion.“
So go on, be amused as we atheists/agnostics/secularists fight against dogma and ideology, but if you really want “mutual respect”, “acceptance over bigotry”, and “love over fear”, I invite you to check out Humanism (not necessarily atheism) as a position, instead of your imaginary Middle Ground.