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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A rational response to atheists

    Dear atheists: I know you pride yourselves on being the most rationally-minded people. You reject major religions and gods on the basis of a lack of evidence. But many of the beliefs you hold are disappointingly irrational, superstitious – even religious. Some of you almost make me ashamed to call myself an atheist. Almost.

    Being critical of religion doesn’t automatically make you more intelligent than a religious person. Atheists – a group I’ll be using to refer to agnostics and other nonreligious folk, as well as actual nonbelievers – adhere to all manner of bizarre religious and pseudoscientific ideas, and it’s difficult to present a united front for reason and critical thinking when we nonbelievers fail to employ these tools ourselves.

    Don’t take my word for it. A comprehensive study titled “”What Americans Really Believe,”” released last Thursday by Baylor University Press, demonstrates that self-identified atheists are much more likely to believe in haunted houses, palm reading, alien visits, astrology and communicating with the dead than far-right Christians. To the 31 percent of atheists who believe in this nonsense: What is wrong with you? And what’s wrong with the other 69 percent of us who tolerate this?

    In a Wall Street Journal article, writer Mollie Ziegler Hemingway suggested last Friday that belief in Christianity “”greatly decreases”” such absurd beliefs and that atheism “”might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition.””

    The simplest explanation (many Christians reject such superstitions because they’re inconsistent with the Bible, not because they’re unsupported by evidence) is lost on her. Other polls in the same study showed that 55 percent of Americans think a guardian angel has personally helped them, a belief which isn’t even authorized by the Bible, let alone objective reality. But Hemingway’s attitude typifies the new assaults on atheism from conservative writers. To them, skeptics are just another brand of loon, and Christianity is the only logical religion out there.

    Atheists are not doing a sufficient job discerning what to believe and what not to believe. This paints us merely as fools who are willingly ignorant of God’s existence, to paraphrase Scripture.

    A friend of mine once described a debate she had with a Christian. Her opponent asked, “”You don’t believe in God? How did everything get there, then?”” She responded, “”Well, there was a Big Bang and everything just . . . evolved.””

    The details of this process, such as how life forms grew more complex through a combination of natural selection and dumb luck, were foreign to her. “”Evolution”” was a catch-all term for a magical process which caused things to become complicated over time. Her beliefs weren’t rational views informed by science, they were a form of religious faith.

    As another example, nonreligious skeptical Bill Maher will be releasing a movie next Friday titled “”Religulous,”” which examines goofier aspects of religious extremism. Maher himself has claimed not to believe in Western medicine, germ theory or the effectiveness of vaccines. He embodies the sort of superstitious nonbeliever which Hemingway and other critics refer to.

    Christianity is this nation’s most popular religion, and it’s the faith most people consult when they make political decisions. These decisions impact the direction of our country and what the rest of us can and can’t do. For this reason, I understand the widespread hostility to Christianity most of us have.

    But people vote based on a variety of other religious beliefs, too. Even atheists vote because of religious faith in political ideologies like Marxism, anarchism or libertarianism, as well as bizarre conspiracy theories and other mystical or superstitious beliefs. All of these are backed up by zero evidence. The atheist focus on Christianity is a little unfair when so many of our own brethren cling to silly beliefs, and anti-Christian sentiments are sometimes spurred more by vitriol and outrage than by rational thought.

    The fact that many self-professed atheists still hold superstitious beliefs is a sign that nonbelievers are still too juvenile as a group to effect real change in the public sphere. Our attention is better directed inward: Before atheists can effectively claim that rational thought is better than faith-based thought, we’ve got to start using it more.


    – Taylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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