Monday, April 30, 2012

Let's be reasonable

As you may have noticed, I’m working on some shorter, more concise answers to the big questions that are raised in this blog. This is not a trend toward witty quips. I hate witty quips. They were great in fifth grade, but their place is to give you something to think about, something to start to build a worldview around, not replace one. They are conversation starters. They are conversation enders if someone doesn’t want to know or doesn’t want to talk about how you arrived at your bumper sticker statement, but they are not a final answer. JT Eberhard gave a talk with 66 slides and lots of suggestions for how to respond to many of the objections to atheism this weekend at the Freethought Festival in Madison, WI. If you’re curious, here are a few:

Why argue about this at all? Shouldn’t people be allowed to believe what they want?

Sure, until they believe that they should pray for their child instead of taking them to the doctor when they have a curable illness. It’s fine until a High School student is ridiculed for not participating in a school prayer. This is not as rare as you might think.

Science can’t explain everything.

There are a lot of things that seemed unknowable or undoable in the last few centuries that have now been accomplished. Just because science hasn’t done something doesn’t mean it can’t.

Atheists just worship science.

We all defer to experts all the time. No one person can know everything. Science has built in checks and balances and its findings have been confirmed over generations. It is not a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s possible that [fill in the blank].

Possibility is always non-zero. We teach our children this so that they will strive to create a better world than the one we left them. Plausibility can be zero. We teach our children this so they won’t jump off a building based on; technically it is possible that they can fly.

JT didn’t have time for questions, but I had one more level that I didn’t think he had covered. I live in a small town where there aren’t a lot of people like JT, so I caught him on his way to lunch. My question was, what about the people who say,

I’m not really sure what I believe, theology isn’t really important, it’s more about community. I worship the universe, the mystery, and don’t have any particular image of God.

His answer was that any degree of unreasonableness is unhealthy. That’s the conversation starter. Where it goes from there depends on who you are talking to.

Any issues of health, career, who should be president, how our purchases affect the workers who made the product, what young people in our lives are learning, what cars we buy and how we drive them, what we say at a funeral, any of that, should not be left totally to chance nor should it be left to any unreasonable form of faith. I’m not suggesting that we paralyze ourselves by requiring a complete and thorough analysis of every mundane decision in life. At some point, you have to choose. You can choose to continue to think about it. You can choose not to. Just make your choice reasonable.

I know people that would never join an organization that promotes the official doctrine of their church. They would protest the activities that the organization engages in on a national level. Some of them are actively working to change the official statements of their church. They are members because they see their local church as an exception. They don’t see what they do on Sundays as a part of what their organization does everyday or what it has caused in the past. They compartmentalize the parts of their religion that they don’t like and disassociate themselves from them.

For any one individual, knowing just what they believe can be difficult to pin down. Most people don’t want to pin it down, and that’s fine, right up until I’m told I’m wrong for suggesting something is implausible or unreasonable when there is good evidence for it. I love to hear people’s life stories about how they arrived at their view of the universe, but that doesn’t come into play when you are talking about gravity or the need to breathe to survive. There shouldn’t be anything personally offensive about sticking to evidence on those issues. Applying reason to issues that are not as black and white should not be that much more difficult.

And I’m getting preachy again, so that’ll do it for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment