Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Final Project: Pharyngula Post

Here is the effort that I am going to submit to PZ's ongoing series of "Why I am an atheist" posts.  This is the shorter version, since I find the exceedingly long posts of this nature on Pharyngula to be tedious.  I will submit the longer required length version to this site as soon as I'm finished tweaking it.

On a personal note, let me again express my gratitude to you, Dr. Oliver, for making this class available.  I had to skip taking one of my core classes in order to participate, and I have been very pleased with my decision to do so.  This class has been an absolute delight, and I have you to thank for it.

To my classmates, let me also say "thank you" for making this experience one that I will always remember.  This class was a big question mark, but the pleasantly diverse mix of worldviews guaranteed plenty of interesting conversation and introspection.  I simply couldn't be more pleased with the wide-ranging variety of topics that we managed to touch on over the course of this semester.  Good luck to you all.

Why I am an atheist

The reasons that I am an atheist are really quite simple. Long ago, some very smart people wrote a book that revealed the unquestionable truth of atheism that would endure for all time. Literally billions of people -including most of my ancestors, family, and friends- have been convinced of the truth of this book and have lived their lives according to its dictates. My parents were atheists, as were their parents and their parents before them, and I am proud to carry on the tradition of atheism by passing it along to my children. Many atheists have suffered and died simply because they were atheists, and I would be dishonoring their memory if I failed to live up to the courage and intellectual honesty that they exemplified during their lives. Who am I to question the sincerity and conviction that the great atheists of the past showed in the face of such persecution?

Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? That’s precisely because it is. Statements like those above are the product of lazy thinking, poor reasoning, and an almost total lack of critical thinking. Making such statements in the defense of any worldview, either secular or religious, is simply ridiculous.

While our exponentially growing knowledge and finite lifespans place limitations on the amount of subjects that any one person can personally learn, thus forcing us to take the word of experts in any given field, we certainly aren’t obligated to treat all “experts” equally. A preacher extolling the beauties of heaven and a doctor administering antibiotics could hardly be further apart on the scale of credibility. One has evidence, and the other has only wishful thinking.

The tired argument from populism likewise gets us nowhere. The fact that a majority of people believe certain things or act in certain ways says absolutely nothing about the rightness of the belief or action in question. Certainly there have been countless times that the majority of people were exactly wrong on questions as easy as slavery or women's rights. If the views of the majority always constituted what was “right”, we would be incapable of making any progress whatsoever. Unless, of course, you happen to think that our civilization doesn’t need to progress beyond our past missteps, which brings us back to the lack of critical thinking.

Appeals to heritage are equally unconvincing. Why do we never (or very seldom) hear: “My parents and their parents before them owned slaves, so it should be good enough for me too.” Our ancestors did the best that they could with the tools that they had available. We can and should strive to do better, as our awareness of how our actions affect the lives of our fellow beings increases.

Who are we to question the actions of those that have gone before us? We are their successors, that’s who. We are the product of a continually accumulating pool of shared knowledge, both factual and moral, so we had damn well better have an improved awareness of how our actions affect this planet and its inhabitants. We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, giants and otherwise, but those shoulders are only a foundation. It is up to us to build on what has come before, and hopefully improve on it.

Why am I an atheist? Because it’s the only intellectually responsible position to hold. Because I am not a slave to tradition, revealed knowledge, or credulous authority. Because that is where the evidence leads me. Because I do not believe in any God or gods.

1 comment:

  1. Very nicely stated, David.

    Thanks for showing us all how a hard-line atheist can be "strident" while keeping a civil tongue and a sweet disposition.