Mon 18 Dec 2006
A new breed of fundamentalist atheists, led by renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and neuroscientist Sam Harris are attacking religion as not only irrelevant but evil. Their thesis is that not only that religion fails to stand up to the test of science, but that it is the root of human suffering. In their view, religion should be shown to be just an obsession.
Religious fundamentalists counter by denying the facts of science. The Kansas State Board of Education‘s comic adoption of education standards requiring teaching “intelligent design” shows how religious folks are willing to believe anything, even that the Emperor’s clothes exist.
The athiest’s position is only furthered by the actions of other religious fundamentalists who advocate violent defense of their religious stand. The weakness with this is that by taking a strong stand on an negative assertion of a premise that can not be easily proved or disproved, they fall into the same trap as their religious adversaries. An atheist has no complicated dogma to defend. The fine points of religion are immaterial if there are no angels to dance on pin heads. Demonstrating that a folks without religion live fulfilling, moral lives is the first requirement for successful atheism.
The alternative to fundamentalist obsession with the error of others beliefs should be recognizing the irrelevancy of those other beliefs. It is more productive to develop a social organization that builds positive social capital for athiests and “unexpectant agnostics” in the way that religion serves this role for believers.
Recent research outlined in an article by Michael Shermer in a recent issue of Scientific American discloses that although religiousity has a negative correlation …”with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies” (Meaning that these problems are more prevalent among those who profess to practice religion) These same folk, however are much more likely to donate more money and time to charitable causes.
I suspect that the generosity of religious folk may be partially related to the focus that the community they are in fosters. Churches encourage tithing and donations to various charities. Part its effectiveness, I believe is from the bandwagon effect, part from the positive feelings generated by acting on altruism, and part is simply through management of guilt.
It seems that atheists and “unexpectant agnostics” would do well to develop social structures that encourage generosity within their ranks, not out of fear of retribution by some divine entity, but because it is simply good for society, and good for the psychological wellbeing of the individual.
If these encouraging structures eschew guilt and focus on the positive benefit to the donor, then we may find ourselves in a better world.
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