“Center for Inquiry” attack on atheists

“Why Evolution is True” article “CfI declares war on atheists” argues why the Centre for Inquiry (CfI) attacks on atheists are flawed. I agree with Jerry Coyne and not only because the CfI is an attack on me. At the risk of repeating several of Coyne’s argument I will explain why CfI are wrong and contemptible.

When I was a child I was dimly aware of religions but I did not understand the differences between them. But I didn’t really think too much about it. Religion was never a fundamental part of my childhood and I accepted what I was told; that they all “led to the same god”. But I was busy having an enjoyable childhood and religion didn’t come into it.

But as I grew older, perhaps when I was about 13 years old, I was exposed to the basic ideologies of certain religions in school. That got me thinking. There seemed to be some fundamental differences between these religions; how could they all lead to the “same god”? No one at school asked questions; what was it that I did not understand? So I undertook my first steps into critical thinking. I started to look at what these religions were saying and I found that they were NOT saying the same thing; in fact, they were at odds with each other. Well, you can imagine, the more I looked the more I found that religion was nothing more than an invention of the human mind.

I was lucky; my parents did not force any religious doctrines on me. I was given access to science books, and my parents subscribed to science magazines which I eagerly read, excited at how humanity had progressed, increasing the knowledge and understanding of the world. So I was given the opportunity to ask questions and not accept everything on blind faith.

It was at this time that I also stopped believing that we were being visited by aliens. None of the evidence made sense. Previously I did not question anything, and believed most nonsense told to me such as Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”. But now I was questioning. The BBC’s excellent Horizon science episode “The Case of the Ancient Astronauts” was a real eye-opener. I saw, for the first time, how people lied, distorted the truth and made fraudulent claims, and that liars such as Daniken could get away with it; all because of people’s unquestioning acceptance of claims.

So at around 13 years of age I found that I could not accept existences of mythical creatures be they gods, aliens, or unicorns without evidence. Evolution, based solidly on evidence, provided a convincing mechanism for development of life on earth. And scientific descriptions for the formation of the solar system, the stars, the galaxies and the Universe are compelling in their evidence. A god was nowhere to be found or even needed.

So it was that I declared myself an atheist; I do not totally and utterly discount the existence of a “god” but argue that the nature of the universe does not seem to require a god and, if anything, the gods of our ancestors are being pushed further and further away such that the probability of there being gods decreases all the time. From a practicable perspective all that this declaration meant was that I did not pray or undertake in any religious practices (not that I did before of course) but now I thought about the things that I did or didn’t do, and I also found it easier to question and explore. Perhaps it was just the general awakening of critical thinking in my life at that time, part of the development that we all go through as we grow up. Life carried on, and being an atheist at school did not matter but I did begin to question everything and think critically. I had not realised how much nonsense there was in the world until I started looking with an open but questioning mind.

The other thing of note was that our school had a visit by none other than Cliff Richard, and great fanfare was made of this event. I was perhaps 17 years old at the time. What did this man say? Well he had the arrogance to tell us that, unless we believed in and accepted Jesus Christ, then God would bar us from Heaven. Yes, such arrogance but perfectly in line with his religious beliefs. At least he was telling it like it is with none of the “all religions lead to the same god” nonsense. Here was a major proponent of Christianity saying that despite all the good that a person does in life, that person would never be let into Heaven unless they took Jesus Christ as their saviour. That was another point in my life where I actively started researching, to determine what religions were saying and found the barbarity and injustices expounded by the god of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Other religions also came under scrutiny but were all found wanting.

I guess it was at college that I really had discussions with others on atheism, religions and the existence of gods. The discussions, whilst not heated, were quite lively. But these discussions were with friends, and I appeared to be the only atheist around. I was not looking around for fellow atheists or going to debates. My discussions were informal occasional chats with friends at places like pubs or fast food outlets. So, although I was discussing such topics, it was not a central part of my life.

After graduating and getting a job in engineering, life was pretty quiet on religious discussions except for the unfortunate Jehovah’s Witnesses who wound up on my door step. But then the Internet happened. I suddenly had access to material at the tips of my fingertips. I found quick and ready access to critical thinking and raging arguments on USENET. The web is what made the Internet go mainstream. And this led to blogs, and now we have Facebook and Twitter. And I found excellent resources on evolution, critical thinking, sceptics, and the fight against nonsense. It was this opportunity for people to express themselves that encouraged me to start my own blog which only gradually began to discuss nonsense.

It is with contempt, then, that I look upon the CfI’s recent attacks who say:

Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. . .

The CfI have misrepresented what atheism is and how we have behaved. Although religion was not ever a part of my life, I was quite unquestioning when I was younger and accepted a god at that time. Now I know better. And the more I learn the more I see that religion is an invention, a lie. I can perfectly see that an intelligent person can believe in religion and a god; I would argue that they are not consistent, that they’ve compartmented their beliefs from rationality. But it happens, it’s all around us. So the CfI expounds a lie to claim that atheists cannot comprehend a god or are bewildered.

The CfI goes on:

Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.

I’m not sure what “New Atheism” is as I’ve been a declared atheist since the age of 13 (many years ago!) and it is the Internet that has allowed many of us to express ourselves; the opportunity to express previously limited to just the few. It is through education, through exploration and understanding how religions have developed and what religions say that has allowed me to come to the conclusion that gods and religions are inventions (for an example, see The Blessed Atheist Bible Study). Further and ongoing research has only served to reinforce that conclusion.

Again, the CfI misrepresent atheism. I would argue that atheists know a little bit more about religions than the majority of the religious. Because that is what an atheist is; a person who has examined the evidence with an open mind and come to the conclusion that a god does not exist or is highly unlikely to exist.

The CfI are calling us unintelligent, ignorant, and arrogant. In many ways, Austin Cline’s article “David Walker: It’s Arrogant Not to Believe in My God” can also be used to reply to the CfI.

What else does the CfI say:

If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously

I take religion, and discussions of gods and religions, seriously. A degree in theology is not required to participate in such debates. As Coyne makes clear, show us the evidence for the gods that religions are based on. Without any such evidence, us atheists will continue to say that religions and gods are inventions. This isn’t arrogance. It’s reason.


Further study (Quran and Bible):

Good reading and watching:

Article by Kulvinder Singh Matharu – 2010