Atheist Monday

No, this won't be a recurring series to brighten the first day of the work week. I've learned not to over-promise blogging output. I just couldn't figure out a good headline for this post. It highlights three items that I didn't want to relegate to the Webstand, but I don't have too much to add myself.

Gnu AtheistThe first is an USA Today op-ed by Jerry Coyne, "Science and Religion aren't friends." As Coyne says, it is a testament to the success of the Gnu Atheists that this piece was accepted and is so popular. Atheists are still the most disliked group in the country, but times are a changin'. The thesis:
For each book by a "New Atheist," there are many others attacking the "movement" and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident. The biggest area of religious push-back involves science. Rather than being enemies, or even competitors, the argument goes, science and religion are completely compatible friends, each devoted to finding its own species of truth while yearning for a mutually improving dialogue.

As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk. Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it's not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.
Good stuff. While Coyne's essay is aimed at the general public, P.Z. Myers has an attack on accomodationists from the Secular Humanism conference last weekend. (Yes, it's an attack, you got a problem with that?)
There is another motive for our confrontational ways, and it has to do with values. We talk a lot about values in this country, so I kind of hate to use the word -- it's been tainted by the religious right, which howls about "Christian values" every time the subject of civil rights for gays or equal rights for women or universal health care or improving the plight of the poor come up -- True Christian values are agin' those things, after all. But the Gnu Atheists have values, too, and premiere among them is truth. And that makes us uncivil and rude, because we challenge the truth of religion.

Religion provides solace to millions, we are told, it makes them happy, and it's mostly harmless. "But is it true?", we ask, as if it matters. The religious are the majority, we hear over and over again, and we need to be pragmatic and diplomatic in dealing with them. "But is what they believe true?", we ask, and "What do we gain by compromising on reality?" Religion isn't the problem, they claim, it's only the extremists and zealots and weirdos. The majority of believers are moderates and even share some values with us. "But is a moderate superstition true?", we repeat, and "How can a myth be made more true if its proponents are simply calmer in stating it?"

I mean, it's nice and all that most Christians aren't out chanting "God Hates Fags" and are a little embarrassed when some yokel whines that he didn't come from no monkey, but they still go out and quietly vote against gay and lesbian rights, and they still sit at home while their school boards set fire to good science.

It's all about the truth, people. And all the evidence is crystal clear right now: the earth is far older than 6,000 years. Evolution is a real, and it is a process built on raw chance driven by the brutal engines of selection, and there is no sign of a loving, personal god, but only billions of years of pitiless winnowing without any direction other than short-term survival and reproduction. It's not pretty, it's not consoling, it doesn't sanctify virginity, or tell you that god really loves your foreskin, but it's got one soaring virtue that trumps all the others: it's true.
Got to love the foreskin shout out. The last item is from the son of Michael Behe, the originator of "irreducible complexity" and the star witness for the creationists, I mean Intelligent Designers, in the Dover lawsuit. He wrote into Reddit's "I am a ..." to explain he is now an atheist and to answer questions about his life. It's threaded comments, and thus all over the place, so I suggest scrolling down and looking for his comments, which are under the moniker "salty914" and highlighted. He is 19, living at home, and not allowed to speak to his younger brothers. It's tragic and inspiring at the same time. He's a good writer, too. Here's his answers to the first three questions:
1. How did you come to the realization that your religion was not credible?

At seventeen, I was something of a little thinker, and I liked questioning everything and looking at issues from different sides. I had never applied that to religion, so I eventually decided to dive right in and listen to the opposing side. I had the utmost confidence in my faith, and I was a very devout Catholic. The first book I read against religion was Dawkins' "The God Delusion". While I didn't (and still don't) agree with everything he said, I tried to empty my mind of assumptions and reformed opinions as much as possible. I read through the whole book in two days, and the result was quite shocking to me. It was like taking off rose-colored glasses for the first time. I realized how questionable religion might sound to some who had not grown up around it. And that was the foundation of my change- it took quite a while to accept, I'd say about six months, but the more I read, the more I realized that religion's claims were simply unfounded.

2. How is your relationship with your family?

Bad. And I do confidently blame religion for this. I certainly don't think it always turns out this way, but my stubbornness in maintaining and voicing my beliefs conflicted with my parents' policy of keeping the rest of my family shielded from alternate viewpoints. "Indoctrination", unfortunately, is really the word that describes it best, and I do believe that my younger brothers (the members of my family I am closest to) are truly being hurt by this. So my parents and I are in perpetual disagreement. I have, for the most part, stopped talking to my parents, and I am not allowed to speak to my little brothers at all. I don't want to complain, but this has been very painful for both them and I. Hoping to move out soon.

3. What kind of backlash did you experience?

The vast majority of families that I know are devout Christians, often Catholic. I have been cut off from several of my friends, I have been rather demonized by parents of my friends, and in the case of one family, my friend's father threatened her that she would not have a normal life unless she severed contact with me completely. I am either spoken to with curtness and disdain or am not spoken to at all by many families I know.
PS Watch PBS tonight for the first installment of "God in America". Should be worth it.

UPDATE: I've watched 2/3rds of the series so far, and yes, it is definitely worth it. I was very apprehensive about the re-enactments, which are really soliloquies, but in general they work well. The trial of Anne Hutchinson is riveting - but it's not a soliloquy. Who is that actress? The first third is very good, the only part that bothered me was the camp revival segment. I learned quite a bit about the Catholic experience, particularly in schools, in the early 19th century. The talking heads had good points, and were integrated into the story very well. Unfortunately, the second third was not good at all. More later.

The video of the Secular Humanist debate is online at the Why Evolution is True blog.

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