Friday, 5 August 2011

On Scepticism in the Broad World -- By Robert S

In its own way, saying you are an atheist is a bit like proclaiming yourself Christian, in the sense that the label actually describes only the bare back bone of your belief. Coming from a Roman Catholic family, and having mostly protestant friends (which in itself is a broad term,) you start seeing differences not only between variations between the followers of Jesus, but between members of the same sect. Likewise, I have seen splits in atheism, and not only between blogers over the elevator incident. I have personally felt it.

I have never been religious. Growing up, while I adored the humanitarian message that Jesus spouted, I ignored the fact that the bible doesn’t fit our modern times with its discriminatory view on women, homosexuals, other belief systems/philosophies, etc, etc, etc. I never understood why the grownups and my friends held these beliefs, but I myself didn’t want to care. God, then, fell into this category. I simply shook off the fact that he ought to exist. As I came more and more into my own, I started to start caring about the issues, and found after looking at the evidence, I was a progressive liberal. I had doubt that a god existed, but not ready to take that next step. Instead, I started to secretly ebb away from mass, In a brilliant plan to distance myself from the church. I was still under my parent’s thumb at the time, so it was the best I thought I could do. First, I started taking three to four bathroom brakes during service, then stepped singing, then stood at the back, finally finding myself not even in the building, opting to listen to my music outside instead. I even quit religious education. But the thing I was not was an atheist.

Enter Moose, my former compatriot and mentor when it came to becoming an atheist. As you can see, I was already essentially there, but I still had not asked myself the tough question: “Who is this god person anyways?” He, on the other hand, was a charismatic, slightly perverted baptist rebel who had turned to atheism head on - researching it and debating anyone who cared to disagree with him. He was an extremist, however, going to the point where he flipped off anyone who said they would pray for him. In his mind, not only did god not exist and evolution was correct, but everyone should think that. So I did what I thought was my religious duty and bit back, only to find my non religious side intervening and making me lose the argument, all the time greedily learning from him. I decided to embrace atheism, much to my parents chagrin. Unlike Moose, however, I still had to contend with my Roman Catholic family and protestant friends, who I spent 98% of my day with. Much to my surprise, it made the experience a lot more I eye opening, as I found that unlike what Moose said, my religious people were not all that he said and they did have legitimate concerns over scientific theories like evolution, and vice versa. So while I broke out of my shell by actually standing up to my parents, listening in on atheist blogs, and gathering my own information, I still retained my lax social belief.

So, where does this leave me today? I am an Atheist, but my disbelief in a god is much different than Tim Minchin, PZ Mayers, or Richard Dawkins. I am agnostic when it comes to whether one exists, but an atheist in that one shouldn’t exist. I equivocate any singularly powerful viewpoint dominating society as the destruction of society, much like in 1984 or Brave New World. However, I mean that absolutely; I’d be even be against a completely skeptical society as well. Conflict and trauma, it seems, has been proven to bring out the most progress, from the reformation, Magna Carta, French Revolution, to art and music. There would be no renaissance had the bubonic plague not destroyed much of Europe. There would be no New deal had there not been the Great depression. So too does this modern conflict between new atheism vs. old religion enrich our lives, giving us a reason to talk to each other and across the battle lines. It is helping to break down the old absolutist systems, gets a person thinking about what he truly thinks is right. Already, hatred spurred on by religious belief is dwindling, and people are realizing that the LGBT community and mothers who want abortions aren’t all the same, nasty people conservatism wants people to believe they are. Now I think it's timeto do the same to people of all labels.

When it comes to science, I even differ from Moose and Dawkins. Evolution’s a theory, a really good one, I’ll be it, but not complete. I’m glad to say that gap is shrinking, but there are still kinks to work out. That’s how I view science in general, as a bunch of theories. Too often, I think scientists take their work to be fact, when in a few centuries it will probably be replaced, as centuries of science already has. Yet, my point with this is not that they these theories should be listened to and questioned, trying to find it’s faults. It’s why I love science; it is never the "right" answer. It’s a step in the process, a long process I hope will never stop. Again, the fact we don’t know something or the fact what we know may be wrong only pushes us to make further discoveries and continue the progress of man kind. It would be difficult to come to the end of progress.  

I write this to remind us, as the future generation of this movement, that life isn't absolute. Old absolutist observations aren’t always true, even labels like “atheist,” “Christian,” and “theist” aren’t the end all be all to someone’s beliefs. Science doesn't give us right answers, just more answers to analyzed and experimented with. As skeptics, we must never lose our probing spirit. Question everything, and make sure to get the whole picture before making the verdict. 

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

Tomorrow: You are Okay, By Laura 


  1. Just to clarify, the only "kinks" being worked out in evolution are the little details of how it occured, not THAT it occured. Evolution is a scientific theory just like the theory of gravity. There is absoltely no doubt that it occurred, and still is occuring.

    But otherwise, yes, one of the great things about science is that it is open to change. Religion isn't. Somehow religious people act like that's a strength and sceince's ability to change shows a weakness.'s sort of the opposite!

  2. I think it's also worth remembering that there's a difference between the word 'theory' as we use it colloquially, and they way in which it's used in the scientific sense. For an idea or hypothesis to become a theory it needs to go through a significant amount of testing.

    Thanks for pointing out that it's possible to be both an atheist and an agnostic - they are not necessarily a linear progression. Great article, Robert! :)

  3. I have to agree with Libby Anne and Laura. Also, I'll be frank, I'm not a big fan of some of your statements about science. I think I understand what you were trying to say, but I also think you should be more careful how you word certain things. For example, " Too often, I think scientists take their work to be fact, when in a few centuries it will probably be replaced, as centuries of science already has."

    Yes, some theories have been debunked, but simply because not enough evidence was available (e.g. neuroplasticity instead of brains being fixed after a certain age) or the technology to conduct research wasn't available yet(e.g. being able to probe the behaviors of elementary particles).

    In my honest opinion, I doubt the most fundamental scientific theories, such as evolution, quantum mechanics etc, will change in the next few centuries. My main reason being there is now so much evidence to support a lot of our current scientific knowledge, it'll be hard to throw out things.

    However I think theories might become more refined, just as Darwin's evolution became more refined once we understood genes and the laws of gravity become more refined once Einstein discovered General Relativity. But I personally feel confident that F=ma will hold up in a 2500 or whenever.

    Anyway, I know I might be nitpicking, but it's the fact that we don't emphasize how science really works (especially in modern times) and what scientific theories really mean that have lead Creationists to conclude that evolution is "only a theory".

  4. Again to chime in on the question of science, evolution is said to be a fact and a theory because Evolution is the name of a factual phenomenon and The Theory of Evolution is an explanation - theory.

    Evolution is like rain - it happens.
    Evolutionary theory is like evaporation and precipitation as an explanation for rain.

    On the idea of a totally skeptical society, I'm not sure in such a case it would matter that everyone is the same suddenly. Skepticism doesn't preclude open mindedness or new and revolutionary ideas. Skepticism is simply part of the scientific method - we further out understanding of reality by trying to systematically destroy aspects of our understanding, the weakest links collapse, the strongest are supported by evidence and reason.

    But it should only matter what society is like as long as the society places fundamental human rights, or humanism, at its core.

  5. I will say I like evolution. It expertly explains how things develop. As a science minded person, I think it is the best answer we truly have. However, it is not complete, and that is closer to my point than I think you are taking it, Mike. Small details maybe, but that doesn't mean they aren't important. For example, take the common criticism "Life cannot come from non life." Science has shown that non organic material can produce proteins. Yet, the most common answer I can find on why we don't see it more often in nature is that the inorganic material does not have the time before it dies in a living world. It's logical, yet that doesn't satisfy me. It reminds me of my friends telling me that I cannot disprove that their god exists. At the same time, the conditions used to simulate primordial Earth may have been wrong. It's just too inexact for me. As a skeptic, I tend to stay skeptical of even the most supported explinations.

    Though, thank you for pointing out my misuse of the scientific term Theory, Laura.

    As to the dangers of a totally skeptical community, It's more a comment on any single dominating viewpoint in general, especially when you have such effective philosophical viewpoints like skepticism. Much like in 1984 and Brave New World, where any dissent is shot down, a skeptical world would tear new ideas apart, before they had a chance to do the research. I agree that respecting human rights is important, but I extend that to people's ideas as well. Say, for instance, in a totally skeptical world, there is a board that decides which projects should be funded in a certain research firm. The most resent request is a long shot, with a low statistic it will yield a result. Naturally, the skeptic would be inclined to reject the plan. Yet, there is still that chance it would work, and improve society. Do they betray the culturally accepted view of looking at the negative data and dropping the proposal, or do they bank on the fact that it has a 25% chance of possible working out?

  6. As to science in General, Golkonda, let me explain this. These statements are really subjective, and pointed more to theories that are harder to see, such as quantum mechanics. There are varying degrees to which I hold a theory to. Something like gravity, lets say, is something I wouldn't dispute, unless a really well thought out criticism caught me, and even then I would have to study further into it to actually judge it.