Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Stupid Atheist

Dinidu de Alwis thinks those who practice religion are stupid.  He mentions my name repetitively in his post, so I’m compelled to write something. My biggest beef with this ‘argument’ is not so much its conclusion – the assertion that religious people are stupid, which after all is a matter of personal opinion, but by simplistic way in which Dinidu de Alwis arrives at this conclusion.  In other words, my biggest beef is not with the assertion of the stupidity, but the stupidity in which he makes this assertion.

Dinidu is a devout and a self-proclaimed atheist. Now I have no problems with atheism, I think it’s a sound, rational and reasonable position on the existence god and deity. My contention is that it is not necessarily the only sound, rational and reasonable position on the belief of the existence of god and deity.

I appreciate the atheist logic. Like I said, I think it's sound. But what I don’t quite understand is this militant, evangelical form of atheism. After all if you don’t believe in something why be militant about it? 

I don’t believe in the fairy god mother or unicorns, but I don’t go around writing blog posts, books or making movies about how silly it is. If you dont belive, just go on not beliving. Evangelical atheists thrust no bible in your face; they’d just like to forcefully thrust it away. 

I think the answer is, this kind of atheists believes that, like Dinidu de Alwis so clearly proclaimed, “Theists are stupid”. So this kind of atheist feels it’s their duty to guide the other irrational, stupid believers in the atheistic rational path. And hence, they must launch the crusade on theism to spread the joy of the atheist discovery. 

Now there are many ways of making this, “all-people-who-believe-in-religion-are-stupid” argument. None of which are particularly smart, but Dinidu chooses an especially dumb and comical route. To sum, he basically quotes Bill Maher. (Ideally I should stop right here and rest my case. But what’s the fun in that?). Maher’s argument against religion is based on biblical literalism, and laughing at how dumb it sounds. 

Something that Mr.Maher and Dinidu doesn’t seem to understand is, fundamental premises of religion, are not about whether or not Mary was a virgin, whether eating pork is sin, or whether Sidhartha walked on the day he was born; it’s about the claims that religions make about the nature of our being. 

And in this, a lot is unknown and perhaps more unknowable. How did life arise on the earth? Why did it arise at all? How do we have free-will or consciousness? Why are there any physical laws at all? Why do planets go in some pre-determined, mathematical orbit? How or who created the Universe? How did this process start?

These are questions we have no right or wrong answers for. Science certainly doesn’t have concrete answers, it gives some possible scenarios, but none that can be claimed absolutely right. And given this, among the sphere of possibility lies the probability that the universe was created by “God”.  This probability may be small as you like and among the many possibilities out there, but unless you can rule out this possibility, believing this might be the case is not crazy. It’s certainly not stupid. 

For example, when you step into a building you don’t expect it to blow up. You believe it won’t. But it could. Now not entering buildings because it might blow up, depending on the situation, is irrational and probably stupid. But suggesting or believing it “could” is not, nor is your belief it won’t. 

What we are stuck with then, is a probability question. The only 'rational' way to settle this is to consider the costs and benefits of this action. If you are getting into a building with a politico and you have absolutely no reason or benefit from being there, you are probably making an error (Dinidu might even call this stupid). But if you stand to gain a lot from this presence and your relative costs of being there are smaller, then this is probably the right move, even with the risk that on the odd day, things could blow up.

That's kind of how religion works. People consider it a positive net benefit. The possibility of heaven, community and support is worth some of the costs.  That's sort of what Blaise Pascal argued.

Sure, sometimes religion is a tool of indoctrination, but as Communists and the LTTE have demonstrated, theistic belief is not a necessity for that kind of thing. 

So I agree there are and can be stupid forms of religion, but Atheists, like Dinidu de Alwis are not exempt from such classification. I wouldn't accuse Dinidu of necessarily being stupid, just very very ignorant.


Makarios said...


Heba said...

wow. n thank you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'd like to reiterate on Heba's "thank you"... wot ye wrote is for all those like Dinidu,who dont respect another's belief.

Anonymous said...

spot on!

Aamina said...

Brilliantly said. You sound far more logical, rational and intelligent than our atheist friend here.

Ding darling...pls do your homework before you start one of your rants..And do it with a more systematic and objective mind rather than a prejudiced one.

Anurupa said...

i more or less agree to what you have said... except for the fact that not all atheists like to keep calm about their beliefs(or non-beliefs in this case) I am an atheist and for me it is not about asserting my non-belief but about understanding why others believe in GOD. Every person has the right to practical thought. i know many atheists who think that they can connect more with themselves after discussing about religion or about God. And yes I would really like you to read this blog about religion in China and i'm sure your misconceptions (if you have any) will be cleared...

Deane said...

Thanks all.

Anurupa, I don't mind Atheists talking about their take on religion. I have a lot of Atheist friends, and those conversations are some of the most stimulating ones I've had.

AlienFromEarth said...

:-) Nicely Done.. and just something that kind of struck me.. true atheist.. well they actually would not rave about it nor disrespect another persons view... so this post is worth it for the few who think atheism is the right way! (by the way i would like Dinidu to figure out apart from logic and science y ppl are atheist.. its more than logic..)