Atheists in America

I'd recommend reading the cover story from next month's Wired Magazine: The Church of Non-Believers. The article explores the multiple faces of contemporary Atheism. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris present the provocative opinion that religion itself is dangerous to society, and are openly hostile toward religious believers. And on the other hand we have atheists like Daniel Dennett that are much less condescending and show a willingness to engage the devout in polite conversation.

Coincidentally, the Washington Post has a short feature on Sam Harris today:
Harris is straight out of the stun grenade school of public rhetoric, and his arguments are far more likely to offend the faithful than they are to coax them out of their faith. And he doesn't target just the devout. Religious moderates, Harris says in his patient and imperturbable style, have immunized religion from rational discussion by nurturing the idea that faith is so personal and private that it is beyond criticism, even when horrific crimes are committed in its name.

"There is this multicultural, apologetic machinery that keeps telling us that we can't attack people's religious sensibility," Harris says in an interview. "That is so wrong and so suicidal."

I absolutely agree with Harris' fisking of the moderates here. Our country's democratic principles are compromised whenever the subject of religion comes into play. Every debate should begin with an estalished baseline in reality; otherwise the debate can not be resolved. For example, the debate regarding the Al Qaeda / Saddam Hussein connection could never be resolved, because each side represented a disparate view of reality.

Religion is the ultimate wedge in our society. It represents two wildly contrasting worldviews, one based on the natural world and the other based on a supernatural world. (Un)fortunately, we live in the natural world. Whether the devout want to admit it or not, we live in a world that is defined by natural science and mathematics. I had faith in myself that I could build a computer, but that computer simply cannot run on faith. Most Atheists and the Devout want to make the world and our society better for the next generation. Unfortunately, we cannot debate how to improve our world when we live in different philosophical worlds. Atheists might be more inclined to address global warming and economic distribution because this is the only world and only life we will ever have; therefore we have to focus on improving life for everybody. The devout might be more inclined to ignore global warming because of a belief that they will live most of their life in a place without global warming concerns. The devout may be more inclined to codify a specific moral agenda in society's laws simply because it force others in society to subscribe to that belief (and its associated costs).

I find the issue of religion in America fascinating and disturbing. I enjoy exploring religious issues with intelligent people that understand the limits and (perceived) faults of a specific dogma. Unfortunately, I have had a difficult time finding people to engage in this debate. I'm definitely surrounded by a large group of devout people, most of them in their late 20's and early 30's. Unfortunately, their faith just seems so shallow. I basically call it Mah Daddy's Religious Syndrome because every single one of them attend the church their daddy attended. That's it. My daddy did it, so will I. Some of them literally believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old, and that's why I am so distressed. Because we, as scientists, are unable to look at the Earth and see the same thing. There is absolutely NO evidence that the Earth is 6000 years old, and yet I am told that is as acceptable as the theory that the Earth is several millions years old. And I can't mock it because it is politically incorrect to castigate somebody's opinion if it is grounded in religious doctrine. And that leads me back to the beginning of this post, Wired Magazine's cover story on Atheism, because it hold this choice passage:
Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school. After all, he argues, "if you have to hoodwink – or blindfold – your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct."
I couldn't agree more. If you belong to the Church of Mah Daddy, then your faith should go extinct. The sooner, the better.


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