A Response To: “Atheism Seems To Get The Cool, Brainy People. We Need Witty Thinkers To Speak Up For God”

Posted: December 6, 2010 in Critical Thinking, Evolution, Existence Of God, Religion, Religious Stupidity, Science
Tags: , ,

This article appeared on The Guardian’s website in their ‘Comment Is Free’ section on belief and was written by Victoria Coren, a columnist who usually writes about poker. Venturing into the realm of the controversial she has decided to pen her thoughts on the growing atheism movement that is rapidly gaining momentum across the world.

Victoria’s point is that religion is seriously short of intelligent people ‘flying the flag’ for belief in God and that these supporters are becoming vastly outnumbered by the prominent intellectuals lending their voices to the atheism side of this never ending debate. She also goes on to say that now the religious are fearful to admit their faith because they “feel silly”.

She blames “new atheism” (which, incidentally, is only new because we’ve only recently managed to loosen religion’s grip on the world) and people like Richard Dawkins for this because, as she puts it, the “Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position.”

As an outspoken atheist I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have some major problems with Victoria’s viewpoint. Not least due to her apparent inability to correctly define atheism and agnosticism.

Consider this quote from the article:

Atheism itself is fine; good luck if that’s what you sincerely (don’t) believe. But the proselytising, fundamentalist new atheist movement sets itself up as more “logical” than faith, which is ridiculous. Given the incomprehensible scale of the creator we’d be talking about, the only “logical” position is agnosticism.

I’ll not say much about Coren’s sarcastic use of the phrase “good luck” here, it’s a cheap shot. To use the word “proselytising” in relation to atheism is quite rich given the colourful history religion has for trying to convert people: I don’t recall any wars as the product of trying to “spread” atheism or seeing any atheism channels amongst the dozens of religious channels found on satellite TV! I also have a big problem when people try and link atheism and fundamentalism together; the two are incompatible and contradictory. Every atheist I’ve ever asked has based their atheism on evidence and so they are always able to change their position should the evidence require it; fundamentalism is defined as an infallible belief in a particular religious doctrine. Atheism and fundamentalism cannot go together.

Aside from these issues of lexical semantics Coren seems to have some basic issues of logic. She states that atheism itself is fine but that “new atheism” and it’s claim it is based on logic and not faith is “ridiculous” because the only logical position is, apparently, agnosticism.

Firstly, faith is generally deemed to be belief or trust in something based on conviction rather than evidence. As atheism is the product of studying the evidence it has nothing to do with faith. Faith only steps in when your position contradicts the evidence. And secondly, agnosticism is simply the belief that it is impossible for the human mind to reach certainty on whether God exists. It is a misconception that you are either a believer, an atheist or an agnostic. The premise that “given the incomprehensible scale of the creator we’d be talking about, the only “logical” position is agnosticism” does not itself stand up to logic.

The author then says:

“In place of the comfort which faith can provide in the face of death, grief or loneliness, [atheists] offer… nothing. They are suspiciously eager to snatch away the consolations of their fellow men.”

Suspiciously eager? She doesn’t explain what she’s suspicious of. Here we see a common tactic: insult the atheist for daring to doubt our precious religion! It may well be a comfort for those in pain to turn their eyes upwards to heaven but it makes it no more likely to be true and is not a good enough reason to believe. It’s also interesting to note here that it is the “faith” that’s given the credit for providing comfort and the atheists that are being slated for not providing an alternative. This is a ridiculous notion given that it is man’s subjective interpretation of a particular religion that provides this comfort in hard times. Comfort can be found in a whole manner of things and it is a pretty weak basis for belief. The language in the above quote is intended to create a negative impression of atheism: spin at it’s best!

I can keep going with laughable quotes from this article:

“Without religion, human life is no longer sacred – nothing is – so it’s not “logical” to believe we’d be gentler if it disappeared. All we’d have to replace it is a trust in altruism, which is certainly no less naive than believing in God.”

Without religion human life is no longer sacred? No shit sherlock: the definition of sacred is “connected to or involving God”. What is it about the obsession humans have with being extra special and sacred? We don’t seem to be able to accept we’re just animals like every other animal on Earth. It’s a pretty arrogant attitude to posses. I’ve also never heard anybody, including the prominent atheists, say that if religion just “disappeared” then all it’s problems would disappear also. The problems are a product of inefficiencies in the human mind not religion per se. Altruism is not a replacement for religion, it is a vital part of how we’ve evolved to where we are today and it is a behaviour which is easily observable in the natural world. To claim it is “no less naive” to trust something as tangible as altruism when compared to trusting an invisible God makes no sense at all.

Lets imagine that Coren’s wish were to come true; that a plethora of “cool, brainy and witty thinkers” spoke up in favour of religion. It wouldn’t make a difference. The message they brought would still be as illogical and undesirable as it currently is however they re-branded it.

One thing that seems to have escaped the author of this article is that perhaps the reason there are so many intelligent intellectuals on the atheist side of the debate and hardly any on the religion side is that atheism makes the most sense based on the evidence? The religious seem quite content with ignoring the fact that science and deep, intense study of the way the world works are all pointing towards there being no God.

Given the growing mountain of evidence science is piling up perhaps the religious should be looking in the mirror at their own beliefs if they want to explain the scorn they’re receiving in the modern world.

The Guardian – As I didn’t say to the archbishop
Atheism seems to get the cool, brainy people: We need witty thinkers to speak up for God

  1. When I read the part where she said, “All we’d have to replace it is a trust in altruism, which is certainly no less naive than believing in God”, I actually acquired brain damage. HOW DID THAT SENTENCE EVEN HAPPEN? HOW????????????

    • Exactly my thoughts!! It’s almost at the point where it’s such a ridiculous sentence that it doesn’t even warrant comment. How can you compa….. in fact I’m not even going to comment. Journalist my arse.

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