Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Those Fanatical Atheists

Dan Gardner has a fantastic article in the Ottawa Citizen in which he talks about his atheism, and takes on those folks who think that any atheist who is vocal about religion is "fanatical":

Yesterday was one major religion's holy day. Today is another's. Tomorrow is a third's. So I thought this is an opportune moment to say I think all three of these faiths -- these mighty institutions, these esteemed philosophies, these ancient and honoured traditions -- are ridiculous quackery. Parted seas. Walking corpses. Nocturnal visits to Heaven. For goodness sake, people, the talking wolf in Little Red Riding Hood is more plausible.
Dan goes on to talk about fanatics:
But just what is the core of Dawkins' radical message?

Well, it goes something like this: If you claim that something is true, I will examine the evidence which supports your claim; if you have no evidence, I will not accept that what you say is true and I will think you a foolish and gullible person for believing it so.

That's it. That's the whole, crazy, fanatical package.

When the Pope says that a few words and some hand-waving causes a cracker to transform into the flesh of a 2,000-year-old man, Dawkins and his fellow travellers say, well, prove it. It should be simple. Swab the Host and do a DNA analysis. If you don't, we will give your claim no more respect than we give to those who say they see the future in crystal balls or bend spoons with their minds or become werewolves at each full moon.

And for this, it is Dawkins, not the Pope, who is labelled the unreasonable fanatic on par with faith-saturated madmen who sacrifice children to an invisible spirit.

This is completely contrary to how we live the rest of our lives. We demand proof of even trivial claims ("John was the main creative force behind Sergeant Pepper") and we dismiss those who make such claims without proof. We are still more demanding when claims are made on matters that are at least temporarily important ("Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction" being a notorious example).

So isn't it odd that when claims are made about matters as important as the nature of existence and our place in it we suddenly drop all expectation of proof and we respect those who make and believe claims without the slightest evidence? Why is it perfectly reasonable to roll my eyes when someone makes the bald assertion that Ringo was the greatest Beatle but it is "fundamentalist" and "fanatical" to say that, absent evidence, it is absurd to believe Muhammad was not lying or hallucinating when he claimed to have long chats with God?

I couldn't have put it better myself. Bravo to Dan Gardner for being willing to make his statement in a public forum.

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