Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Restarting (again)

Hello and I am back again from another vacation from the blog. Currently I am working as an intern for a museum and I hope to share some of the experiences with you at a later date. Firstly though, I wish to start off discussing stereotypes.

Here are a few letters I have noticed from the Metro newspaper that I’ve been reading on my way to work.

Andrew McRae claimed atheism is not based on faith. However, it is equally impossible to scientifically disprove the existence of God as to prove it; belief is required to get to either conclusion, so therefore atheism is as much a faith as any other. Except, of course, that it does far less good for society as a whole. Has anyone ever heard of Atheist Aid or Atheists Against Poverty? No, I didn’t think so.

by Jeremy Clack

All the swans on my lake are white. There has never been a swan on the lake that was not white; therefore all swans are white. To an Australian, the arrogance and illogicality of this assertion would be breathtaking and yet it is the standard of argument advanced by atheist correspondents. If your neighbour were to win the lottery several weeks in a row, you would suspect something was amiss, yet the atheist assertion that life arose by random chance is many more times less likely than this. To deny that this requires faith is questionable at best. 

by Jonathan Youdan

Now to me I’ve noted several untrue stereotypes and strawmen in these arguments:
  1. Atheists are arrogant.
  2. Atheists don’t give to charity.
  3. Atheism is illogical.
  4. Atheism states that life is random chance.
  5. Atheism says there is no God, for certain.
  6. Australians find atheists arrogant (which of course calls into question the existence of Tim Minchin).

Now as someone who has some understanding of what atheism and science is, I find the letters puzzling. They make several assumptions that are ignorant. Let’s go through why this is the case.

1. Atheists are arrogant
Again I disagree. In fact, someone like myself, who only postulates that as there is no evidence for any deity then there is no point in worshipping one, I find this bewildering. I’m not saying I am definitely correct, I am simply applying a logical argument. It is arrogant to state for certain any way and the atheists that do this could be considered arrogant in their beliefs. If we consider the case of Darwin, who turned away from the traditional Christian God due his life experiences, would anyone consider him arrogant?

2. Atheists don’t give to charity (or be involved with them).
Again, I used to regularly give money to the NSPCC and I have walked dogs for two charities. Furthermore during the Haiti earthquake, the British Humanist Association (a registered atheist charity) set up an organisation to allow people to donate to secular charities that were assisting the aid for Haiti. This initiative actually came under criticism from atheists as they felt that this was un-necessary and that they were just giving to any reputable charity. I honestly cannot see how being religious in this case makes someone a better person.

3. Atheism is illogical
Atheism is the simple lack of belief in any deity as there is no evidence. As someone pointed out in the Metro, not believing in unicorns is considered logical.

4. Atheism states that life is random chance.
This one is partially true, if we ignore the fact that atheism is not science. It is chance that life exists on Earth in its present form, but as we understand Evolution is not completely random since there is some form of selection, natural selection. As we are unaware of the exact circumstances surrounding the start of life, it is a bold claim. Until we can produce a living cell from elements without artificial intervention and tinkering like Craig Venter did, we cannot say for certain how random a chance life is. It could be that with the huge amount of space and time in the universe, life is certain.

5. Atheism says there is no God for certain
Again a fictitious claim. Especially as the BHA bus slogan was “There probably is no God”.

6. Australians find atheists arrogant
A very bold claim considering there are Australian atheists such as Tim Minchin who would have a field day with this bloke.

In all, this article shows that the people here are writing from ignorance. They have picked upon a general stereotype generated by people about atheists. Now this stereotype is very unpopular which is a pity as it prejudices people against those without any religious convictions and helps create inequality. Now I could ruin this point completely and act in a manner which confirms some of these beliefs in atheists right here. I could slate religion completely and as such completely invalidate myself. But I will not simply to prove otherwise. I consider Quakers as a very open-minded sect and I enjoyed the time I spent at Bootham School as the values mirrored my own and I suspect the values of many atheists. Now as Quakers are very individualised, this means that I cannot stereotype them, however, the values that they preach at places like Bootham School and the Quaker societies in York, mean that I can label some of the Quaker groups that show the thoughtfulness of some religious people.

Stereotyping in essence is something we’ve produced from our instincts. Spotting patterns is an intrinsic part of being human and this predictive “software” can be faulty. Instead, careful thought is required in order to avoid this.

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