Need a boost? Need to feel less alone – read this!
N.B.:Scientist don’t believe – we test hypothesis.
By Greta Christina, From Alternet: “Atheism isn’t an attack on diversity, it’s a defense of reality.
Do atheists hate diversity?
Is the very act of atheist activism (trying to persuade people that atheism is correct and working to change the world into one without religion) an act of attempted conformity? Are atheists trying to create a drab, gray, uniform world, where everyone else is just like them?…It’s probably pretty obvious that I think the answer is a big fat “No!” But it certainly is the case that many atheist activists, myself among them, are working very hard to persuade religious believers out of their beliefs. Not all atheists do this, of course; many have the more modest goals of separation of church and state and religious tolerance, including tolerance of atheists and recognition of us as equal citizens. But a good number of atheists are, in fact, trying to convince religious believers to become atheists. I’m one of them….
If there’s one single idea I’d most like to get across to religious believers, it would be this:
Religion is a hypothesis.
Religion is a hypothesis about how the world works, and why it is the way it is. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way it is, at least in part, because of immaterial beings or forces that act on the material world.
Religion is many other things, of course. It’s communities, cultural traditions, political ideologies and philosophies. But those things aren’t what make religion unique. What makes religion unique, among all other communities/philosophies, etc., is this hypothesis of an immaterial world acting on the material one. It’s thousands of different hypotheses, really, positing thousands of immaterial beings and/or forces, with thousands upon thousands of different qualities and temperaments. But all these diverse beliefs have this one hypothesis in common: The hypothesis that there is a supernatural world, and that the natural world is the way it is because of the supernatural one. Religion is not a subjective opinion, an ethical axiom or a personal perspective. (These things can be connected with religion, of course, but they’re not what make its unique core.) Opinions, axioms and personal perspectives can be debated, but ultimately, they’re up to each person to decide for themselves. Religion is none of these things. Religion is a hypothesis. It says, “Things are the way they are because of the effects of the immaterial world on the material one.” Things are the way they are because God made them that way. Because the Devil is making them that way. Because the World-Soul is evolving that way. Because we have spiritual energy animating our consciousness. Because guardian angels are watching us. Because witches are casting spells. Because we are the reincarnated souls of dead people. Whatever.
Seeing religion as a hypothesis is important for a lot of reasons. But the reason that’s most relevant to today’s topic:
If religion is a hypothesis, it is not hostile to diversity for atheists to oppose it. It is no more hostile to diversity to oppose the religion hypothesis than it is to oppose the hypothesis that global warming is a hoax; that an unrestricted free market will cause the economy to flourish for everyone; that illness is caused by an imbalance in the four bodily humors; that the sun orbits the earth. Arguing against hypotheses that aren’t supported by the evidence is not anti-diversity. That’s how we understand the world better. We understand the world by rigorously gathering and analyzing evidence… and by ruthlessly rejecting any hypothesis the evidence doesn’t support. Was it hostile to diversity for Pasteur to argue against the theory of spontaneous generation? For Georges Lemaitre to argue against the steady-state universe? For Galileo to argue against geocentrism?
Many believers will argue that religion doesn’t fall into these categories. They’ll argue that religion can’t be proven true or false with 100-percent certainty, and therefore it’s reasonable for people to believe in any religion that appeals to them. (And it’s unreasonable for anyone to make an argument against it.)
But that’s not entirely true. Many religions, from young-earth creationism to astrology, do make testable claims. And every single time those claims have been rigorously tested, they’ve folded like a house of cards in a hurricane. They can’t be disproved with 100-percent certainty, but almost nothing can, and that isn’t the standard of evidence we use for any other claim.
Much more to the point, though: When you start seeing religion as a hypothesis, the fact that it’s unverifiable suddenly stops being a defense.
In fact, it’s completely the opposite. The fact that religion is unverifiable becomes one of the most devastating arguments against it.
One of the most important things about a hypothesis is that it has to be falsifiable. If any possible evidence could be used to support a hypothesis — if your hypothesis will be shown to be true whether the water in the beaker gets hotter or colder, stays the same temperature, boils away instantly or turns into a parrot and flies out the door — it is an utterly useless hypothesis. If any event at all can be fitted into it, then it has no power whatsoever to explain past events or predict future outcomes. It is, as they say, not even wrong.
And that’s just as true of religion as any other hypothesis. If any outcome of, for instance, an illness — recovering dramatically for no apparent reason, getting gradually better with medical intervention, getting worse, staying the same indefinitely, dying — could be explained as God’s work, then the God hypothesis is useless. It has no power to explain the world, to predict the future, or to tell us how our behavior will affect the outcomes of our lives. It serves no purpose. (Except, perhaps, a psychological one.)
The fact that religion is unfalsifiable doesn’t mean we have to accept it as a reasonable possibility. It means the exact opposite. It means we should reject it wholesale….
And I think the problem comes from how we think of diversity.
Historically, we pretty much have two models of dealing with religious beliefs that are different from ours. We have (a) intolerant evangelism and theocracy — forcing religious beliefs down other people’s throats, through social pressure at best, and legal strictures and even violence at worst. And we have (b) uncritical ecumenicalism: The idea that all religions are part of a rich, beautiful spiritual tapestry and they’re all at least a little bit true — and that even if they’re not, it’s religious bigotry to criticize them or try to persuade people out of them. It’s a model created largely in response to intolerant evangelism and theocracy… and therefore, it’s a model in which any criticism of any religion automatically gets slotted into that ugly category.
Atheism is offering a third option.
We’re offering the option of respecting the important freedom of religious belief, while retaining the right to criticize those beliefs, and to treat them just like we’d treat any other idea we think is mistaken.
The atheist movement is passionate about the right to religious freedom. (With the notable exception of a few assholes on the Internet. Name me one movement that doesn’t have its share of assholes on the Internet.) We fully support people’s right to believe whatever the hell they want, as long as they keep it out of government and don’t shove it down other people’s throats. We see the right to think what we like as a basic foundation of human ethics, one of the most fundamental rights we have — and we have no desire whatsoever to overturn that…We see religion as — yes, you guessed it — a hypothesis about the world. We see it as a hypothesis that has never once in all of human history been shown to be correct. We see it as a hypothesis that at the very least has been falsified numerous times, and at worst is unfalsifiable and should therefore be rejected on that basis alone. And we see no reason to treat it any differently from any other deeply flawed, completely unsupported hypothesis. We see no reason not to criticize it, to ask hard questions about it, to make fun of it, to point out flaws in it, to point out the good evidence contradicting it and the utter lack of good evidence supporting it… and to do our damndest to persuade people out of believing in it.”