It seems that every time an article about religion is posted online or a comment is made on twitter or even when somebody professes to having faith or a religious inclination, a torrent of abusive messages follow from people who claim allegiance to the new atheist movement. Of course if you read through these comments you see the same arguments rehashed over and over again.
They consist of accusing the religious of having about as much logic for their faith as they would for a teapot orbiting the sun or a flying spaghetti monster or in fact fairies at the bottom of the garden. This argument is called Russell’s teapot after Bertrand Russell the philosopher who first postulated this thought. The argument is solid in a GCSE level philosophy paper but attempting to disprove something as complex as God with a simple logical absurdity is a sign of intellectual weakness.
As you know when you make the claim that the thing you are arguing is not true, it is very easy to disprove and therefore is not a comparable argument. It is an attempt to shake the faith of a believer by postulating that their faith is as ridiculous as fairies at the bottom of the garden.
It is a tactic used by Richard Dawkins in his famous God Delusion. It is a widely read piece and it viciously attacks faith and religion as well as the notion of God. Those who appreciate the book use its arguments to attack those with religious faith with the ferocity of a rabid Rottweiler imagining that they are instrumental in the movement towards a non religious utopia, a materialistic paradise where there would be no war or civil strife as society would have rid itself of the one key divider that destroys all good, religion. Dawkins has also told his supporters that the burden of proof is on the religious and it is they not the non-believers who have to justify their position in a debate.
When they do come up with scientific facts such as the finely tuned universe, the problems we have with explaining creation, why life exists at all and the advancements that are being made by quantum physicists that support the possibility of God, atheists deride it as merely a simplistic God-of-the-gaps answer.
You might quote Occam’s razor that demands that the simplest theory be assumed to be correct until a greater one be discovered.
However, if humanity used this as a core principal, explorers would never have sailed from Europe as they believed the earth was flat; the sun would still be thought to evolve around the earth and we almost certainly would not have experienced anywhere near the scientific discoveries that mankind has produced in the last few millennia. It is also a dud theory because God is often the simple answer to the great questions of creation. Quite the double-edged razor it seems. However, as most credible scientists will admit, we are a long way from being able to answer some of the key questions about our existence and therefore to rule out any possibility of divinity is in itself an act of faith.
It is like a religious belief, a belief that does not have the evidence required yet to support it fully.
This is why people say atheism is a religion (and please don’t reply with the tired “atheism is a religion as abstinence is a sex position” argument): it is a set of universal principals defined by the belief that there is no God. It is the promotion of that position of faith and the desire to convert all others to that position of faith that makes new-atheism like religion in its nature.
I read on one forum once someone saying “I don’t believe in Santa any more: does that make me a fundamental non-Santa follower?” I would reply: “No it doesn’t.” However, if you walked around demanding that no-one should believe in Santa and that all children who did were imbeciles and the fact that you have to be made aware that others do believe in Santa was an affront to your human rights, then I would respond with: “Yes, you are a fundamental non-Santa follower”.
If you actively campaigned against sexuality in all forms I would say you were fundamentally abstinent.
So it is the charge against this breed of very vocal atheism in its firm belief that all others are living in ignorance and that their beliefs are harmful to themselves and the world around them, that faiths and beliefs that have existed for thousands years and whose followers have been some of the most intelligent men who have ever lived (and please: intellectuals did not all suddenly turn atheist after Darwin, who himself did not profess himself an atheist but an agnostic), are sordid and evil and are threatening to mankind.
Now, before we damn all religion as evil and squalid, let us cast our eyes back on humanities least religious period the 20th century.
The greatest evils committed my mankind including the holocaust, the Stalinist purges, the atrocities of Mao, the killing fields of Cambodia and the invention of the nuclear weapon, were perpetrated in overtly secular societies where the notion of being accountable to something greater than ourselves has become redundant.
They were not conducted by the Vatican, the Church of England, the Supreme Leader of Iran, any other Muslims or Jews they were man’s and man’s alone, committed without a thought to the divine.
These atrocities were not committed in the name of atheism and any religious theorist who says otherwise is mistaken. However, they were committed in overtly secular states where religion was either relegated to background status or was actively discouraged.
Without God, mankind is no longer sacred and without that status we are free to do to others what our own consciences tell us is permissible and there is nothing more subjective than the human conscience. Any sort of fundamentalism is dangerous, especially when it concerns something as complex and as wonderful as life and its potential meaning.
There is a chance one party is right and the other wrong there is a real chance that we all are wrong and we not understand our existence in the way we thought we did. Such debates should be considered and should not be relegated to the realm of the keyboard warrior recycling old philosophical ideas in parrot fashion be you theist or atheist.
Let us be civil and open to new ideas for surely that is the truest form of enlightenment to be open to all debate even if you at heart disagree. Any closed-mindedness is a form of ignorance and is, at its heart, fundamentalist.