Via Afarensis, I came across this Newsweek article about atheism. It focuses mainly on Sam Harris, RIchard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Overall I think it’s a pretty good article. Here are a few highlights:
This was not a message most Americans wanted to hear, before or after 9/11. Atheists “are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public,” according to a study by Penny Edgell, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6–only 2 percent answered “don’t know”–and only 37 percent said they’d be willing to vote for an atheist for president. (That’s down from 49 percent in a 1999 Gallup poll–which also found that more Americans would vote for a homosexual than an atheist.)
Even homosexuals are preferable to atheists?!?!? That’s just cold.
Of course, we should pause to state the obvious. A person who declared they would never vote for a Christian would be dismissed as a vile bigot. The 63 percent of Americans unwilling to vote for an atheist should be similarly dismissed.
Later we find this:
[Harris] asks: How can anyone believe in a benevolent and omnipotent God who permits a tsunami to swallow 180,000 innocent people in a few hours? How does it advance our understanding of the universe to suppose that it was created by a supernatural being who communicates only through the one-way process of revelation?
These are not brand-new arguments, of course, and believers have well-practiced replies to them, although in some cases, such as the persistence of evil and suffering (the “theodicy” problem), the responses are still mostly works in progress.
I like that. A clear, forthright admission that no one but a true believer could be persuaded by the various attempts at Christian theodicy.
But if the arguments of Dawkins and Harris are familiar, they also bring to bear new scientific evidence on the issue. Evolution isn’t necessarily incompatible with faith, even with evangelical Christianity. Several new books–Evolution and Christian Faith by the Stanford biologist Joan Roughgarden and The Language of God by geneticist Francis Collins–uphold both. But to skeptics like Dawkins–and to Biblical literalists on the other side–Darwin appears to rob God of credit for his crowning achievement, which is us. In particular, evolutionary psychologists believe they are closing in on one of the remaining mysteries of life, the universal “moral law” that underlies our intuitive notions of good and evil.
Again, well said. Of course faith and science can be reconciled, if you’re content to show that no law of logic is violated by grafting God onto the findings of science. But the fact remains that evolution fits a lot more comfortably in an atheistic framework than it does within Christianity. Darwin does, indeed rob God of his crowning achievment, in the sense of making supernatural intervention unnecessary for explaining how complex life can arise from simple precursors.
Sadly, the article ends on a truly idiotic note:
If Dawkins, Dennett and Harris are right, the five-century-long competition between science and religion is sharpening. People are choosing sides. And when that happens, people get hurt.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. It is not people choosing sides that leads to people getting hurt. It’s when one of those sides starts thinking that something other than rational argumentation is an acceptable means of bringing the other side around that you have a problem. And here we see the real difference between people like Dawkins, Harris and Dennett on the one hand and their religious opponents on the other.
They are often called “militant atheists.” How militant are they? They write about it, and sometimes they speak publicly about it. That’s it! That’s all they do. And for this they are told that they should worry about the wrath of offended religious people, or that they need to be more respectful of the feelings of others.
But when religious people argue that public policy should be based on scripture, or that discrimination against homosexuals is acceptable because it is condoned in the Bible, or that their’s is the one true church of God and their leader is infallible, everyone is expected to show great deference to their views. Indeed, in polite society it is considered downright rude to challenge someone’s religious beliefs.
Of course, the reason for this is not hard to spot. On the one hand, people take their religious beliefs very seriously. On the other, almost none of these beliefs can withstand even a little bit of rational scrutiny. Consequently, the only solution is to avoid rational contemplation altogether.