Faith-Based Initiative

There is a gathering groundswell of resistance to the colossal influence exerted on human affairs by organized religion. An increasingly visible and vociferous alliance of scientists, journalists, and philosophers are going on offense — quite justifiably so, given that the world’s intractable conflicts and most deeply seated hatreds seem to be rooted in religious differences, and given, also, the degree to which religious myths are interfering with the teaching of science in our schools, and slowing the pursuit of potentially revolutionary medical research.

Organizations like the irritatingly named Brights are gaining traction, and prominent thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have gone on the warpath with their latest books (Breaking the Spell, and The God Delusion, respectively).

Where do I stand on all of this? I’m a barely reformed atheist myself, and though I have mellowed to a skeptical agnosticism — I realize that both the existence and nonexistence of God are unprovable — I absolutely agree with Dennett that religious beliefs have enjoyed their protective taboo against criticism for far too long, and I agree with Dawkins that whatever sort of God, if any, there may in fact be, there is scant reason to imagine that it will turn out to be any of the versions described in any of the popular mythical accounts such as the Old Testament or the Koran. That’s just as well, too, because the Old Testament God — that angry, vengeful, haughty, ruthless, attention-starved bully of a god — isn’t one I’d care to worship. Dawkins has said “we’re all atheists when it comes to Thor or Poseidon or Zeus, and some of us just go one god further.”

Another writer who has been at the vanguard of the atheistic counterattack is one Sam Harris, whose recent books include The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Harris has also been contributing columns here and there, and has a recent one in Newsweek, called A Dissent: The Case Against Faith. An excerpt:

Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs regularly determine what they live for, what they will die for and—all too often—what they will kill for. Consequently, we are living in a world in which millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in a world in which millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of Christians hope to soon be raptured into the stratosphere by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy a sacred genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. In a world brimming with increasingly destructive technology, our infatuation with religious myths now poses a tremendous danger. And it is not a danger for which more religious faith is a remedy.

The multidimensional blogger and artist Kevin Kim comments on Harris’s article, and on what Kevin calls “the battle of the religious memeplexes”, in a characteristically thoughtful and interesting post here. Do take a look.

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One Comment

  1. Kevin Kim says

    Thanks, as always, for the shout-out.

    Kevin

    Posted November 19, 2006 at 11:54 am | Permalink

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  1. By waka waka waka » Blog Archive » The Narrow Way on November 25, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    […] However you may feel about Richard Dawkins’ recent campaign against religion, he is indisputably among the greatest living scholars of natural history. One of the many topics he discusses in his richly informative book The Ancestor’s Tale is the notion that “evolvability” itself may be amenable to natural selection. He suggests that certain watershed developments in life’s history greatly increased the facility of organisms to adapt, and that such developments would themselves have been adaptive. There is tricky footing here; it is important to keep in mind that natural selection never “looks ahead”. But, as Dawkins writes near the end of the book, “we might find with hindsight that the species that fill the world tend to be descended from ancestral species with a talent for evolution.” There are a number of developments that Dawkins cites as having improved life’s “evolvability”: among these are the birth of eukaryotic cells, multicellularism, segmentation, and sex. He also discusses another, less obvious milestone: bottlenecking. […]