The Case Against Religion
Needs To Be Aired
Frances Dobson

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Frances Dobson" Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: October 09, 2001 8:09 PM

Science, like religion, is passed down to the younger generations. Of course: science is cumulative knowledge, we keep adding to it and pass the whole body on down.

Unlike religion, though, science has a built-in self-correcting mechanism. Every fact that we hand to our children is automatically prefaced with the notion, "as far as we can tell at this point in time," or, better yet, "subject to revision." The whole point of science is to address humankind's fallibility by making what we claim to know conditioned on our willingness to submit any claim of knowledge to the scrutiny of our peers, and to abide by that scrutiny. One of the greatest joys in science (I hear) is to have one's own pet theory completely demolished by a young whip-start graduate student. I can relate because whenever a reader has shown me something it's like a whole new dawn for me!

Also integral to science is the notion that anybody can challenge any claim to knowledge and, with good enough evidence, completely topple an entire branch of science. Nobody gets to be the arbiter of human knowledge, because all knowledge is subject to the scrutiny of all humans. This is what makes me chuckle when creationists whine about science being so closed off to the idea of creationism. Hey! Just bring on the evidence! If it passes muster, we'll toss ol' Charlie's work right into the Vandervoort Street Incinerator, and Charlie himself will help by tossing in the first few boxes! That's how science works.

Religion does not work this way; in fact, it's quite the opposite. At most, religion is a new meaning given to an existing passage or even, at times, a new passage of "revelation" which, once accepted into the canon, is never questioned again.

The problem with identifying as an atheist (or in any way as a nonreligious person) is that we are making our identity, as such, depend upon what others think. There really is no way to identify as an atheist without doing so in reference to the views of others ("I am not one of those"). As close as you'll get to this would be the Skeptics, the debunkers, but then, as I wrote in a prototype for the feature article in the August issue of Positive Atheism Magazine,

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While there is nothing wrong with being "not one of those," there really is not much we can do, as atheists, to distinguish ourselves in a positive manner. At least, there is really no way to do this in a way that certain theists likewise can do. Theists can be rationalists, materialists, humanists, even secularists in the political sense, and the whole gamut of what we atheists have suggested as philosophically positive attributes of atheism. So, as long as we are prepared to fall short of being exclusively atheistic, I think atheists can and do get involved in a whole rainbow of movements that seek to better our world. (Incidentally, the name "Positive Atheism" is not derived from the philosophically positive use but means "proactive" as in putting one's atheism into action to make the world a better place.)

What I do, rather, is try to dignify the human whenever I can. The human is, after all, the most intelligent and most caring entity with which we can communicate (that we currently know of). I also try to emphasize responsibility and accountability, because since there is no "God" up there looking after us and guiding us in our decisions, we are on our own. Thus, we need to avail ourselves of every resource we can find in order to make this world what it can be and likewise to take care of ourselves -- and our fellows, if need be. Thus, any activity or group effort that seeks to move in those directions is, I think, worthy of our attention and our support. Distinguishing between theism and atheism, in the group itself, is way down on my list of priorities. Rather, I prefer to utilize solid methods for discerning truth and to approach everything on its own terms.

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For a good collection of articles on reason, thinking, group-think, and logical fallacy, see our "Clues" Index.

For my views challenging the notion of atheist groups, see the letter, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" with Argentina's Skeptical activist Juan De Gennaro.

My views on why atheism is really no big deal are spelled out in two columns, "Atheism: But A Small Part" (April, 2001), and "To Symbolize That Which Is Not?" (August, 2001).

Thanks again for your interest and I would enjoy hearing from you again. If you have any response to what I've said here, fire away! That is, after all, the best way to learn and the only way to test one's ideas against the scrutiny of others.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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