...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day2639: "A Lie that Lurks in the Appeal"


This is what the Cardinal Arch-Bigot of Westminster has to say:

"Atheistic secularism ultimately diminishes us; it kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it."

"It says that this is all we are, this is it! We have no significant purpose; we're merely chance products of material processes."

Quite simply, this is NOT TRUE.

It is CHILD'S PLAY to reverse the accusation:

"We have no significant purpose… because omnipotent Mr God has already decided it for us; we're merely chance products of… the WHIM of a supernatural creator."

Does this get us any nearer the "TRUTH"? No!

We can find significant purpose for ourselves WITH OR WITHOUT the need for intervention from a father/god figure; we can be inspired OR rendered purposeless BY the existence or non-existence of an omnipotent overbeing who has decided our fate from the beginning of time.

Ms Linda calls me a RASCAL for saying that the Cardinal of Scotland is wrong to whip up opposition to the Fertilization and Embryology Bill by FRIGHTENING people who don't understand with talk about MONSTERS.

Well, maybe I AM a bit of a rascal, but what does that make the Cardinal?

(And Professor Winston Moustache, not un-famous as a believer in Mr God, has gone a GOOD BIT further than me in calling the Cardinal a FIBBER!)

I am a militant atheist baby elephant because I do not believe that Mr God is real; your personal mileage may vary.

But DOUBT is very important. You cannot be a proper LIBERAL if you are not willing to listen to what the other side has to say.

That means I will NOT dogmatically refuse to believe that Mr God COULD exist: it means that I have had a SERIOUS think about the evidence and decided, on balance, that at the moment it is NOT SUFFICIENT to convince me.

The main form of evidence for Mr God has got to be the – very large numbers of – personal testimonies, witness statements if you like, from people who feel "touched by Mr God", either moved emotionally or even spoken to in words.

However, and I do NOT mean this insultingly, there are also people who genuinely believe that they have been contacted by ALIENS.

Equally, is it not surprising that people ascribe these events to the version of Mr God with whom they are familiar? Relatively few people of CofE background feel the touch of Mr Krishna in answer to their prayers.

This leads me to find it MORE PLAUSIBLE that people are making an ERROR in understanding where these feelings/convictions/messages are coming from. I believe that they are putting the "culturally accepted" explanation of "it's Mr God" on something that comes from INSIDE us, not from a supernatural source OUTSIDE. Brains are really smart but also really DUMB, and the classic "seeing patterns that aren't there" is an explanation that I believe.

Does any of this make a difference?

Yes: if people like Mr Cardinal O'Conman are going to insist that coming to my conclusions means that I am AUTOMATICALLY WRONG, not just about this but about everything else.

That's not respect for beliefs; that is PREJUDICE and that I why I keep calling him the Arch-BIGOT.

I do not think that I am claiming any "special rights" when I say that he should NOT be allowed to get away with calling me "Evil" just because I don't believe and he does.

I would HOPE that you would consider my diaries on their own merits, and not just dismiss EVERYTHING that I say just because you come to a different conclusion.

I think that we are all the result of a long (and still unfinished) process of natural selection shaping us to be a better and better fit for our environment. I think that there is STRONG evidence to support this, both in the physical history of the Earth, its rocks and fossils, and in the biology that is going on all around us.

Furthermore, I think that this is MORE inspiring: we can have, not just a set of rules to follow, but a GOAL of making a still better future for ourselves and our inheritors.

So the purpose that I pick for myself is (part one) to improve myself (in the old-fashioned and frightfully paternalistic sense of the word "improving" meaning through learning and through experiencing art and music) AND (part two) to improve the world for other people (so long as it is with informed consent, by solving problems where I am able to).

The Cardinal says that he believes: "that freedom of belief, openness to its arguments and respect for the insights it brings is a critical resource for our society."

I would AGREE… so long as you remember: the Freedom to Believe MUST INCLUDE the Freedom to Not Believe.


Lesson for today, your eminence: SECULAR ≠ ATHEIST


Alasdair W said...

Nice rant. I think both you and the cardinal are probably rascals. I would like to point out you exagerate a lot. A lot more people believe in God that believe they've seen aliens. 2billion people call themselves Christians and nearly 2billion muslims. I don't think anyone was saying you don't have the right to be athiest. Anyway I wouldn't blame you for being Atheist, after all the bible doesn't talk much about fluffy elephants.

Millennium Dome said...

Hooray! Rascally fun!

I wouldn't deny that LOTS more people believe in Mr God than believe that they've seen aliens, but I wasn't comparing the experiences in QUANTITY, but in KIND.

The question is do you BELIEVE the testimony of the people who say they've seen aliens? If not, then what might have made them THINK they've seen aliens? And could this RARE "thinking I've seen aliens" thing have a rather more COMMON occurrence?

You cannot JUST judge personal testimony by QUANTITY. You might think that the fact that LOTS of people believe something should weigh more heavily than something only a few people believe… but does it? Long ago, almost everyone believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and only a few astronomers like Galileo and Copernicus thought it was the other way around. But who was RIGHT?

Why did the majority believe that? Well, it IS what it looks like, and it was what everyone else thought, and it was what they were told by their priestly authority-figures, and they probably didn't think about it too hard. So they just accepted it as a given.

So it is quite possible for a majority of people to make the SAME mistake about what they THINK they are seeing or experiencing.

(Though, it is IMPORTANT to remember that it might NOT be a mistake at all: if new evidence turns up I am willing to change my opinion!)

If I may ask, what convinces you that Mr God DOES exist?

I do NOT exaggerate… I use HEAVY EMPHASIS :)