Interview with a Strawman, Parte the Seconde

Same Q and A, continued … and remember, some of these questions may not make a whole lot of sense for the rational reader, but I’ve had each one of these asked of me.

So, as an atheist, you believe in Darwinism and the Big Bang, right?

I would say that while I do accept modern evolutionary synthesis and the Big Bang theory as representing the best current understanding we have of the diversity of life and the origin of the universe, I would point out that neither is contingent upon my being an atheist.  There are plenty of Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc., who accept these theories as well.  Alternatively, there may be some atheists who believe in some kind of alternate origin of the earth and humanity.

I’ll concede, though, that there certainly exists a strong relationship between atheism and the tendency to accept these theories.  This is largely due to the fact that both stem from the desire for objective physical evidence before arriving to a conclusion.

You’re just putting your faith in science, then.  You’ll believe whatever they say.

I always chuckle when someone uses “faith” as a pejorative when referring to a set of ideas different from their own.  No, faith is simply belief without evidence.  It rolls off of the tongue so well with the name of every religion tacked on before it:  the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, etc.  My acceptance of evolutionary and cosmological theory is based on an established and proven trust in the scientific method and the peer review process that has been demonstrated over the centuries as the most reliable way of describing, modeling, and predicting natural phenomena. There is a chance that another, better method will come along.  When that day comes, it will revolutionize science.  Until then, what we have now is the best bet.

But the Big Bang and evolution are only theories, not facts.  There’s no evidence for either one!

I could include this one in an online debate drinking game and send a dozen people to the hospital with alcohol poisoning in the first ten minutes.  I hear this argument from creationists all the time, and to encounter such scientific illiteracy no longer surprises me in the least.  What does concern me is how this is pervasive (albeit to a lesser degree) in the general public, and how fundamentalists are taking advantage of it to undermine public trust of the scientific community as a whole.

It’s easy enough to persuade someone to accept your point of view when they don’t know enough about it to object to any of your claims.  This is likely how the concept of “teaching the controversy” was able to take hold so easily.  After all, if evolution is “only a theory” and “we weren’t there to witness the Big Bang”, science obviously doesn’t have all of the answers!  Never mind the fact that it never claimed to.

The scientific community has a very serious obstacle to overcome.  In order for people to understand the definition, applicability, and limitations of “controversial” theories like evolution or the Big Bang, there needs to be a fundamental grasp of not only basic scientific facts, but of the scientific method as well.  For example, establishing – as common knowledge – the distinction between the colloquial and scientific use of the word “theory” would be a good start.  Critical Thinking 101 wouldn’t hurt either.  (Posts on topics such as these are one of the goals of this blog.)

Anyway, back on topic:  the phenomenon of evolution is a fact.  (I’ll be going into this in a later post.)  How this real, observable phenomenon occurs is described by a theory.  And, while we’re on the topic, the word “theory” takes on much greater significance when used in the scientific world as opposed to when it’s used colloquially by Star Magazine to explain why Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston really broke up.  There will be more on this too, but for now, it’s simply important to know that if something is “just a theory” in the scientific community, it’s doing pretty damned good.

You’re just an atheist because you hate God / want to rebel / had a bad experience with religion when you were younger.

I can’t be angry at God when I don’t believe he exists.  I suppose I could take particular issue with Jehovah, since He’s the one I grew up with.  When I was younger, I read about how He advocated a whole slew of horrible war crimes and other atrocities and then had the audacity to send his son down to tell everyone how loving He really was.  I never bought it.  The thing is, though, my atheism extends far beyond that to the concept of gods that we haven’t even necessarily thought of yet.  In that sense, it doesn’t stem from hatred or resentment, but just an inability to see the point in believing in such a far-fetched idea without any evidence to back it up.

Now, it is true that I resent religion; fundamentalism in particular, since I see it primarily as an excuse for people to act like complete lunatics and get away with it.  But as we all know, religion and God are two completely different things.  As for rebelling, I think I did when I first left the Catholic church and got all New Agey for a while … but that quickly settled down and after giving it a great deal of thought and consideration, I simply just can’t bring myself to suspend my ability to think rationally just so I can accept the existence of a completely unobservable god.

I’m going to bed … more later.

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