On Why Atheists Have to Show Respect for Religion

A response to Greta Christina from Raw Story

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By David Ramírez

On March 23, 2015, Raw Story ran an article by Greta Christina where she argued for her right as an atheist to express her intolerance to non-atheists, on the simple ground that that is what religious people do anyway, show disdain to other religions while putting the mask of ecumenicism, and pretend they all get along. So why shouldn’t she express her disdain to non-atheists? In her words:

Progressive and moderate religious believers absolutely have objections to religious beliefs that are different from theirs. Serious, passionate objections. They object to the Religious Right; they object to Al Qaeda. They object to right-wing fundamentalists preaching homophobic hatred, to Muslim extremists executing women for adultery, to the Catholic Church trying to stop condom distribution in AIDS-riddled Africa, to religious extremists all over the Middle East trying to bomb each other back to the Stone Age. Etc., etc., etc. Even when they share the same nominal faith as these believers, they are clearly appalled at the connection: they fervently reject being seen as having anything in common with them, and often go to great lengths to distance themselves from them.” (My bold letters)

Then later she adds how atheists come and ruin everybody’s party by asking how they know which religion is true, how come any religion resists to be proven wrong, of whether God exists, and what is the point of religion anyway?

Well, the answer is simple. The reason why moderates and progressives who happen to be religious may complain about the violence and injustice predicated on religion it is because they maintain that the religion itself does not warrant those behaviors. It has nothing to do with whether their religion is true, or if God exists, or questioning the very purpose of religion.

Apologists for religion are arguing the peripherals causing the violence and injustice, not the central aspects of belief. Polemicists against religion want to argue the central aspects of belief thinking that that approach will resolve everything else. Just kill the root.

Only if things were that simple.

How can we explain this to a self-proclaimed atheist?

See, in the scientific community there are several disciplines. Each discipline has a myriad of theories, streams of thought, principles and all sort of controversies deriving from those. Take for example the origin of the Universe, a battling ground for atheists in their refutation of theists. Until fairly recent, the scientific consensus was that the Universe had existed forever. Then came along someone who proposed that there was a Big Bang, and others who could come up with the math and scientific observations that could give ground to a proof. This of course made the Universe finite, thus having a beginning. Eventually this became the popular widespread accepted theorem, and it has become the scientific consensus.

In spite of this, there have been scientists ever since that still maintain that the Universe has always existed. The issue is that the Big Bang still remains a theory, for more math and observations you want to put into it, it still cannot be proven as a matter of fact. In other words, it is still not considered “true.”

When looked into detail there are pieces of the puzzle that do not cohere, and it gives ground to scientific critics of the Big Bang theory to say that the whole idea is hogwash. Forget for a second the “born-again-Bible-thumping” crowd, this criticism of the Big Bang is coming from scientists themselves.

So when scientists argue about the veracity or falsity of the Big Bang theory, they do so by using the tangential, the peripherals: the math, the physics, the quantum physics, the chemistry; what have you. Whatever they come to believe based on their gathered evidence and finite understanding that our biologically-tied senses permit us is too a matter of faith. But they would never question the Scientific Method, the central aspect, which gave way to it.

Questioning the Scientific Method, for scientists at least, would be tantamount to question God’s existence for the religious.

So the fact that the Big Bang theory is yet not “true,” can it give us the ground to say the Scientific Method is all “bullshit”?

And if the Scientific Method cannot give us the real answer to the Universe’s existence, should we trash it and come up with something “better” to try to bring us the “true” answer? I do not know, let’s come up with the Blee-Blee-Blah-Blook Method. Maybe that will work!

I am personally annoyed when I hear and watch atheist argue that way, because it shows they do not have a clue how science is made. And I would argue, they would know much less the role religion has played in the history of human culture and knowledge.

And maybe there are religious types that do not like atheists, but personally I do not care if someone is an atheist or not. But the only thing that would make me not to like an atheist is when one of them tries to argue things that they have little knowledge of, and pretend they are speaking with authority in the name of “truth,” when actually they just come off dumb and become an embarrassment to themselves and to the very thing they try to defend.

As for the “double-standard” of being ecumenical and critical of other’s religion at the same time is as simple as the difference of public and private discourse. You may think a child is ugly, but you do not go out of your way to tell his parents on their faces that he is. It is called having manners.

The problem with atheists vis-a-vis religious views is not so much that they criticize religion, but that they mock it relentlessly. Ok, I get it, the worst crimes in history have been perpetrated by people upholding unbending religious views, but that ignores its larger spectrum of the creative non-violent contributions to culture, politics and society.

And before they get too up high on their secular sacrosanct pedestal of self-delusional image of peace-makers on Earth, one must remind atheists that the two largest secular-atheist movements in modern history, the French Revolution and the Soviet Union, created more carnage and misery than the Inquisition and the Crusades put together.

The argument that needs to be made against the religious is when their ideologies infringe upon the personal human rights of the individual, but this ought not to be done by mocking their religion, or creating tautologies of “true” and “untrue” epistemologies, but by establishing boundaries of mutual respect regardless of creed or dogma. And atheists too hold to their own forms of creed and dogma they do not dare to question.

Ecumenism is a form to follow for public civil discourse, where personal misgivings of the Other’s beliefs do not come into play. It is not an “unique armor” that protects religious views from “valid criticism,” but the very thing that maintains civility. To take this away will only lead to the very violence that Ms. Christina decidedly abhors.

Ecumenism is the religious people’s equivalent to a scientific journal or symposium, where everybody exposes their unique views without trying to offend the other. One may respectfully agree or disagree, but they all know they are in this thing called life together, and yes, we all have to learn how to “get along” if we want to live in peace.

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6 responses to “On Why Atheists Have to Show Respect for Religion

  1. This article was garbage and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s pretty clear that you don’t understand the scientific method or the arguments of the piece you’re critiquing.

    • Dear Zephyr, thank you for your response. If you’re willing to elaborate, how is it clear that I do not understand the Scientific Method or the piece I am critiquing?

  2. While Zephyr was slightly rude, whenever someone uses language like the following: “The issue is that the Big Bang still remains a theory”. I am forced to question their understanding of the scientific process. You are applying the non-scientific understanding to a scientific term. A theory in science is not a guess or a hunch, which is what your word usage insinuates to the reader.

    • TSD, thank you for your comment. I did not mean to say that a theory is just a mere guess or a hunch. There is a difference between a proven theory and an unproven theory. In the Scientific Method for the exact sciences, one of the steps is testing under a controlled environment. The test is done according to an hypothesis or theory which predicts what will be the outcome. If the series of tests, which have to be numerous, happen to match the predictions, and the results can be replicated over and over, then it would be considered as having proof. Now, the above has to be compared with the following Christina’s sentence,

      “When faced with different ideas about God, wouldn’t you want to ask some questions, and look at the supporting evidence for the different views, and try to figure out which one is probably true?… I’m an atheist because I think the religion hypothesis is implausible and unsupported by any good evidence — but it’s a big part of why I’m an atheist activist… It lends credibility to the idea that faith is more valuable than evidence; to the idea that it’s completely reasonable to believe things we have no good reason to think are true…”

      A rallying cry of Atheists is their understanding that science is a way to know the truth. The problem is that it is not the case always. Christina does not seem to distinguish what evidence means, and how it is used to come up with a proof. A tested result becomes an “evidence”; the more the test results confirm the hypothesis, then it leads to removing doubt, thus becoming “true.” Yet there is still a possibility that later on, there might be other criteria which were not considered before, which disprove the previous understanding. So there are scientific consensus that at one point were accepted as “true,” to be later unaccepted.

      This is why I bring the origin of the Universe as an example, and the Big Bang in particular. Now, Astrophysicists know there are aspects of it for which there is not enough evidence. However, self-proclaim atheists who probably do not follow the development of the Big Bang theory, and its surrounding controversies, think that just because it is science, therefore must be true. That is the impression I get, even from scientists like Richard Dawkins.

      At this point, theories like the Big Bang theory remains a conjecture, which is another way to say it is a guess or a hunch; albeit one with a lot of mathematical models, discourses, and underlying assumptions. A conjecture and a guess rely on empirical knowledge and intuition, the only difference is that in science such knowledge becomes measurable and the intuition becomes formalized and expressed in exact terms.

      I take issue when people use words like “evidence” in an absolutist expression, and this where they are not different from people of faith.

  3. I also had an issue with another comment of yours : “And atheists too hold to their own forms of creed and dogma they do not dare to question.”. Such as? This statement is something that really requires examples to back up. It appears to be nothing more than attempt to put Atheism on the same level as a Religion. To imply we all share common creed and dogma “we do not dare question” is disingenuous at best.

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