Something’s happening here

Interesting. Both Time magazine and Newsweek have cover stories this week featuring articles by or about prominent atheists.

Time offered a debate between atheist Richard Dawkins and Christian geneticist Francis Collins. I’m biased of course, but I believe Dawkins came out the winner. It’s hard to believe that the best defense that someone such as Collins can summon are statements such as “I don’t think that it is God’s purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us.”

Anyway, Newsweek’s cover story featured an article by Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith). He argues effectively about the dangers of injecting religion into politics.

Regardless of what either of them say, the critical point for me is that they are saying it at all — and getting it published in mainstream media such as these national magazines. We may be at the start of a major shift in our national attitude towards atheism. Even if we don’t see a significant shift in people’s beliefs, I am hopeful for at least a shift in tolerance and acceptance towards those that profess atheism. One day, we might even live in a country where saying you are an atheist does not automatically preclude you from being president (making atheists one of the few remaining minorities that are included in this category!). At least I can hope so.

I have already commented on my personal views regarding atheism in previous postings here. However, I recently posted some comments on as a reader review of Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. In re-reading my posting, I find it to be an excellent summary of my position. So I am reposting it here. On Amazon, the review provoked an informative exchange between myself and another reviewer. If you are interested, you can read the exchange here.

Here’s the original posting:

“One of the key arguments Dawkins makes in his book is (and I am paraphrasing here) that the assertion that God is an explanation for the complexity of our universe does not really explain much…because it does not explain the origin of the complexity that is God.

Several of the negative reviews posted here attack this as flawed logic, on various grounds. The essence of the protest is that (again paraphrasing) that something may exist that is “outside” of our universe or “outside” of our concept of time. And it could be more complex than we are, even if we can’t understand how this is so.

I am still left to wonder how this helps much. I mean it is all well and good to answer the question: “How did the universe get created?” by saying it was created by something more complex than ourselves. But, to me, that still leaves the question of how the creator of our universe was created. Figuring out how to get out of this potentially endless chain is a bit like trying to understand infinity itself. Still, I am more than willing to concede that my wonderment is not tantamount to evidence one way or the other.

I believe Dawkins is on stronger grounds when he points out that, just because you can’t disprove something, does not mean that it is just as likely to be true as any alternative. That is, just because one can’t disprove that there are invisible aliens walking secretly among us, it does not mean that it is equally likely that there are aliens as there are not. In science, in such cases, the onus of responsibility is on the person making the positive assertion. That is, before the scientific community would accept the idea of aliens on our planet as reasonable, there would need to be solid evidence supporting it. Simply saying that you cannot disprove the existence of aliens is not sufficient evidence. Dawkins wants this same standard to be applied to the existence of God. Again, however, I understand how other people may argue that God is somehow outside of science and thus immune from this standard.

However, even if one were to concede that there are flaws in Dawkins’ logic, or at least viable alternative viewpoints, this would in no way support the notion that a “creator of the universe” is anything like what many religious people regard as God. Just because the origin of the universe remains a mystery is no reason to assume that there must therefore be a God that provides our moral compass, that takes an interest in our actions, that has created an afterlife (heaven, hell or whatever), that may answer our prayers or punish us for our sins. And so on. There is similarly no reason to believe that the Bible or the Koran or any other religious document is anything other than a collection of stories created by humans, with no divine intervention. There isn’t even any reason to believe that there is an anthropomorphic God that set the mechanisms of our universe in motion and then left it to run on its own thereafter. At best, all that can be said is that the creative force of our universe is something we can’t yet explain.

Too often, it seems to me, this distinction is muddied. That is, pointing out potential flaws in arguments for atheism is not even close to the same thing as providing evidence for a traditional view of God.”

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