Hello I am going to be writing a short response to @secundum.veritatem regarding his essay on atheism (which you can read here), because as an atheist myself, I did have some problems with this essay and points I wanted to address while reading this; so let’s begin. He starts off by saying,
Despite [atheists] considering themselves “free thinkers” and rejectors of religious thinking, there is a clear ideological uniformity amongst these people. This is something that atheists really seem to miss.
Well from my perspective, this is simply false. The only thing that atheists share in common is the lack of a belief in a higher power, however I assume he is referring to what has been known as the “New Atheists” group and yet I still don’t see the “ideological uniformity” among these people. As a big fan of Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, etc. I have watched many of their talks and read many of their books as well as spoken with fellow fans of them and do not see this uniformity. However, let’s see what evidence Sebastian provides for us.
Gods and religions are not things meant to be subjected to empirical verification and logical reasoning. They’re archetypal memeplexes used as a group survival strategy for competitive advantage. By memeplex I mean a set of easily spread ideas for the purpose of social engineering. This renders traditions, culture, and norms in general as memeplexes as well. All of which are organically produced ideas that create a universal set of expected behavioral standards within a group.
Well unfortunately that’s just your opinion. You are not stating any reasons as to why we cannot subject belief systems to the scientific method, you are rather just stating that we shouldn’t apply logic to beliefs simply because religion has been one of the things that has helped in created a “universal set of expected behavioral standards” within groups. There are currently over 600 schools in the United States that are allowed to teach the idea of creationism along side the theory of evolution (1). This is a major problem that religion has, and has historically has had when it comes to science. Most of the “New Atheist” thinkers that you’re criticizing in this essay are mostly arguing against fundamentalists pushing their narratives in a classroom; not against the moral values it gives to people. No atheists are going around shouting “ha, look at you and your morality!” The majority are rather critiquing the idea of drawing morality from an objective outlook that isn’t to be questioned, instead of using logical reasoning to deduce proper behavioral standards within groups. There are plenty examples even today of huge problems being drawn objectively from religion, for instance in 2007 a poll showed that 36% of British Muslims feel that apostates should be put to death for their unbelief (2), this is a perfect example of religion being used as an excuse to hold moral values that directly conflict with out current day ethics. His next point is,
This turns gods into a concept more like a number. The concept of ‘2’ is an ideal representation of that which we experience in the material world. This is the same for a god like Jesus. The characterization of Jesus as presented in the new testament portrays a compassionate pure-hearted father figure for which many of us yearn and wish to emulate. In this way he is an archetype. Both numbers and gods come with real world applications as well. Numbers are used to conceptualize material things and perform calculation, while gods are used for worship and as a source of comfort and moral guidance.
First of all I would like to make something clear, the number two is not an “ideal representation of that which we experience in the material world,” for you cannot experience a number. Mathematics was invented as a methodology for understanding the world, not for experiencing it. For example, when I perform this equation to calculate the gravity of any given object of mass:What is it that I am experiencing? Am I experiencing the gravity of the object of mass I am solving for, simply because I am using said equation? What is being defined as an experience here? How is it at all similar to that of a religious experience, or “experiencing” god? It’s not and I’ll tell you why. Mathematics was invented as a means by which we can empirically understand nature. (3) Whereas religion was invented as an attempt to conceptualize that which we did not fully comprehend. (4) As you can see, the two were not created for the same reasons, and cannot be used to do the same things because, as you stated at the beginning of this essay, “Gods and religions are not things meant to be subjected to empirical verification and logical reasoning,” whereas Mathematics is designed to be subjected to exactly what you said religion cannot be, which makes your compartment of the two a false equivalence and quite absurd. The next argument Sebastian presents is,
Once one has simply given up a memeplex so conducive to social cohesion and engineering as religion, it doesn’t just go away in one’s mind. Instead of idealizing and emulating Jesus’ teachings, they may instead idolize Neil DeGrasse Tyson and follow that which he says. Instead of approaching politics and ethics from the perspective as taught to them by those in their church/religious group, they’ll just emulate foremost atheists and others within their group.
For his first declaration that once someone gives up something like religion; that idolizing of something doesn’t go away, he provides absolutely no psychological, statistical or evolutionary evidence to support this, but rather just states it as if it’s self evident. This is a problem I always had with very religious and traditionalist right-wingers while I was on the right, the fact that they make declarative statements about not only human psychology, but sociology while presenting no scientific or statistical evidence to support their reasoning; and because of this I must simply dismiss this claim as a non-argument. Luckily for Sebastian, I actually did a little research about the psychology of both religion and atheism, and in a paper conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto (5) they concluded:
More broadly, our results may offer a mechanism for the finding that religion is linked to positive mental health and low rates of mortality and morbidity (Powell, Shahabi, & Thoresen, 2003). If thinking about religion leads people to react to their errors with less distress and defensiveness—an effect that occurs within a few hundredths of a second—in the long run, this effect may translate to religious people living their life with greater [calmness of the mind] than nonreligious people, being better able to cope with the pressures of living in a sometimes hostile world. More broadly still, these results suggest a neural implementation for the effects of self-affirmation in helping people overcome threats to the self and attendant states of defensiveness (Steele, 1998). We did not, however, find a reliable connection between religiosity and improved executive control
So, as we can see from this study, people seek out religion as a means by which they can have more stability within their own minds, and cope with high pressure situations more efficiently than most non-religious people (due to thinking that God will always watch over them and protect them). No where in this study does it suggest that people are drawn to a religion because of a human desire to worship something, but rather quite the opposite. We don’t have a desire to please the will of some idol, but rather the will of our own minds which is what draws people to religion in the first place. Your point about people “following whatever Neil DeGrasse Tyson”, or any atheist lecturer says is nonsensical. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, and does not try and tell people how they should live their lives, or what philosophies they must follow, all he is doing is educating people about science; I suggest you actually read one of his books or listen to one of his lectures to better understand his motives, and the information he actually conveys, in order to distinguish it from rhetoric fundamentalists claim he says. His next point is,
[Atheists] substitute the church for social media groups, priests for social media/youtube figures (Amazing Atheist, AronRa, Secular Talk), bishops for public intellectuals (Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris), and the pope with the foremost atheist of the movement, Richard Dawkins. Because it’s comprised of primarily ‘edgy’ young people, this explains the ideological homogeneity. They believe themselves to have a monopoly on rationality, and thus feel entitled to the idea that all their and their group’s ideas are factual. It’s no different from any other run-of-the-mill cult.
This idea that atheists use platforms like social media and YouTube as an outlet for critiquing religion and discussing ideas is the same as people going to church and dogmatically worshiping a deity is absolutely ridiculous. Atheists do not dogmatically follow youtubers and social media icons as if they’re infallible, with the exception of outliers ; I’m sure you could find anecdotal evidence of edgy atheist comments on YouTube videos that resembles dogmatism but that holds true for anything, because after being in this group for many years, and watching some of the people you stated there, I personally have seen a wide diversity of opinions in the atheist community; especially once you start talking to individuals instead of just categorizing all those in the new atheist movements as dogmatic worshipers of youtubers. Unlike atheists on youtube, religion and the idea of going to church is literally founded upon dogmatic worship of a deity, whereas atheism and youtube are founded on the free exchange of ideas and rational thinking; so you, for the second time in this essay, have made a false equivalence. As for other Atheist communicators such as Richard Dawkins and Laurence Krauss, it is true they speak more directly about the faults of religion and why accepting the scientific method is better than religious dogma; but the distinction is is that unlike religion, science is something that can actually explain the world; science is the closest to objective truth that we can ever get. It is because of this fact that the new Atheists, this essay is supposed to be attacking, are trying to convey the message of scientific literacy and rejection of religion to the public; simply because science is true and gives us a clearer picture of the world. The “dogma” you claim to observe must simply be because those who have accepted the world view of truth, rather than fiction, tend to share the same ideas for the most part, because science is pretty consistent in most areas. Lastly, atheists know that we do not hold a monopoly on rationality and logical reasoning; however what does, is science. And, in case you haven’t noticed, atheism is largely intertwined with science. This is not to say that only scientists can be rational, but to say that only science can be seen as a rational means by which we can deduce truths about the natural world. As for your vert last statement that atheists “feel entitled to the idea that all their and their group’s ideas are factual” and that “it’s no different from any other run-of-the-mill cult” I would highly suggest you actually attend lectures given by atheists, and listen to their arguments. Most atheists share a wide variety of ideas, and the most famous ones (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, etc.) are very passionate about their life’s work, and therefore are right in criticizing pseudo intellectuals like yourself who claim they know better than the evidence.
In conclusion, Sebastian’s lack of rational argumentation skills, and evidence; as well as his constant usage of fallacious and non nonsensical statements make his last statement about how atheists have “truly been brainwashed into believing this ‘holier than thou’ mentality” all the more ironic considering this entire essay was written with the ‘holier than thou’ mentality, and as an attempt to discredit the ideas of some of the current greatest minds in science.