Passion. Religious believers consider that they're the only ones with it. For example, they have "The Passion of the Christ." It fills Christians with energy, conviction, determination, zeal.
Well, there's also "The Passion of Reality." It fills me with exactly the same feelings. Just as fundamentalists are driven to rid the world of Satanic influences (including pagans like me), when I come across nonsensical dogmatic blathering my reality-loving blood begins to boil.
I get fired up to defend the ramparts of truth against the neo-barbarian hordes who want to substitute superstition for science (and a scientifically founded spirituality).
This morning, on Pharyngula, I came across a well-deserved rant about another blithering apologist.
I read these lame exercises in making excuses by theologians, and I don't understand how anyone can be foolish enough to fall for them. The latest example is by Edward Tingley, who babbles on painfully about how believers are the true skeptics, the true scientists, while claiming that the believers have a deeper, stronger knowledge than mere atheists.
Yet nowhere in his ramble does Tingley ever give any evidence or rational reason to believe in his god or any god — in fact, he triumphantly declares that there is no evidence — god exists, but (I can scarcely believe he makes this argument seriously) he's hiding…hiding in such a way that only someone "muscled up with virtues" can see him. It's the Emperor's New Clothes argument all over again.
Exactly. I muscled up with the virtue of reading crap that I don't believe in and headed over to Tingley's Christian web site to inspect "The Skeptical Inquirer: If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are."
It was painful to peruse. I confess that I didn't read every word. But only a small proportion of the words made any sense, so I'm pretty sure I didn't miss anything important.
These sentences seem to capture the essence of Tingley's argument:
A seeker of truth has to go where the truth can be found, and to go on until it is found, and both the atheist and the agnostic are early quitters… Maybe, if he exists, God would show himself directly to our senses. But maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he would hide from us—maybe he is a Deus absconditus.
… We now have evidence for a conclusion that all our fellow seekers of truth ought to draw: Either God does not exist or he exists but does not show himself to our senses.
… When the smart scientist of the seventeenth century was asked, "Is clear water pure?" he did not go with his gut and answer "yes" or "no." "The naked eye says yes," he answered, "but is there an instrument better than the naked eye with which to see?" We need to listen to the scientist who claims that there is, and that scientist is Pascal.
That instrument is the heart. "It is the heart which perceives God, and not the reason"… In a world in which God both exists and hides, relying upon conclusive evidence is the way to be wrong about God.
Wow! What an amazing load of bullshit.
Tingley says that since there is no evidence for God, either (1) God doesn't exist or (2) God wants to hide from us. The simplest explanation obviously is (1), in the same sense that since there is no evidence of gnomes who live under flowers in our garden, either (1) they don't exist or (2) they want to hide from my wife and me.
Now, someone else could move into our house and have a deep sense of conviction in his or her heart that there really are gnomes under our flowers. They just want to hide, and don't want to leave any demonstrable evidence of their existence other than that heartfelt sense.
Great. Each to his own. I've got no problem with gnome-lovers or with God-lovers. Just call your devotion what it is: a purely personal vision that has no foundation in objective reality.
Don't try to conflate what you feel in your heart with genuine knowledge. Don't insult truth by equating your subjective conviction that gnomes, God, Big Foot, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus is real with how the cosmos truly is.
Just say, "I don't know, but I'm pretending that I do because it feels good." That's honest.
There's various ways to respond to those who, like Tingley, want to foist their medieval faith-based claptrap onto those of us in the 21st century who are just fine with what the Renaissance brought us. Physicist Brian Greene takes the high road in his "Put a Little Science in Your Life."
He correctly sees science as more than just an activity pursued by white-coated nerds off in their own little experimental worlds.
The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that's precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.
Then there's the low road, which attracts me more after having my heart tell me that Tingley and his fundamentalist friends need to be stopped with some shots across the bow before they kill civilization. This is the path taken by "Carnival of the Elitist Bastards."
Here she stands in dry-dock, awaiting launch: a ship of the line, cannon gleaming, masts straight and strong: the H.M.S. Elitist Bastard, built to withstand the endless assaults of ignorance. Her mission is to seek and destroy stupidity and make the world safe for knowledge once more. Where she sails, no IDiot is safe, no ignoramus secure: she's armed to the teeth and filled with a feisty crew begging for battle.
Only when necessary, though. Since I'm an ignoramus in so many ways, you're my comrade in not-knowing if you're similarly willing to admit your ignoramusness.
Notice the if. It's important. Like Socrates said, those who believe they know when really they don't are disadvantaged compared to those who know that they don't know.
Worse, they disadvantage the rest of us when they try to found social or educational policies on their religious ignorance – such as teaching creationism/intelligent design in public schools or not supporting embryonic stem cell research.
When Tingley and his band of "I feel God in my heart" no-nothings who believe they do set themselves up as superior to us genuine godly ignoramuses, that's a call to arms.
Time to unfurl the sails of the H.M.S. Elitist Bastard and show them who really rules the roost of ultimate reality: Mystery.