January 03, 2012

The Atheist's Holiday

Myself and a few other atheists finished 2011 in a small regional town being bombarded by the life's work of people such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. At this point in history it still takes an unusually courageous individual to stand up and carry the argument. These men are not alone, but they have shouldered the burden.

2011 is a tipping point for the debate about reason over faith.

ABC television aired an interview with Richard Dawkins conducted by Andrew Denton, who took the opportunity to converse with one of our great intellectuals by asking him, "What star sign are you?"

Denton thinks he's smart, but it looks more like he's missing a few of the more useful bits of engineering that evolution has bestowed on our gene pool. Evolution should really be the topic here, and even Bill O'Reilly on the FOX network has been able to have that discussion with Richard Dawkins without resorting to idiocy.

O'Reilly will never be convinced that we live on a planet that was not designed by God, but he showed more respect for Dawkins and his message.

At the heart of the religious conviction that rejects the word of Dawkins and his kind is the idea that if we humans cannot explain it, then it must have been the work of God. He works in mysterious ways, so any mystery must be down to his presence. There was a time when science was unaware of why the stars filled the sky or the spherical nature of our planet.

Religion filled the void in those times. In a modern world where science understands ever more of our universe and the laws that govern it Religion holds dominance over an increasingly smaller realm of the mysterious. You have to suspend your belief in science to accept fully the word of most religions. And that is what angers Dawkins the most. All he wants is a fair playing field for the debate.

Intelligent Design is not a science. It belongs in the religious text, not scientific, as it fails every test of science you can imagine. A belief in God relies on 'faith', a conscious choice to accept beliefs in the absence of evidence. We learn faith from our parents and our culture, but the source of that faith comes from religion and politics.

Little wonder there are so many Gods to choose from.

Indeed to uphold a belief in one God you have to reject a multitude of others, and deny a good swathe of history as well. Science is not the only academic pursuit that gets locked in darkened room. History reveals the breath taking depth of religious forms that have come and gone, and the role religions have played when asserting power over people. Division of Church and state is a relatively new phenomenon in our world.

The fact that humans across the history and geography of our planet have been drawn to religion in all it's forms points not to evidence of God, but evidence of why we believe in a higher power. It is innate within us to look up the chain to the man in charge. Deep down we are just another form of pack-animal, and we'd rather pin the responsibility for our problems on someone at the top.

Dawkins hints at a very dark side of organised religion however, where we give our power over to others and in return we deny ourselves the chance to learn and understand. It's one thing to put your faith in God, it's another to let men in funny robes dictate your education. Libraries are filled with ideas and knowledge, and yet religion lets just one book dominate the exploration of understanding above all others.

You could argue that religions have very little to do with God, and that's the problem. In many ways they keep God at a distance from people, because the men who run the Church are the ones who speak on His behalf. History reveals a litany of men who either imagined or lied about the word of God to suit their own needs.

If God did exist wouldn't he be pretty dismayed with how his words are twisted and manipulated to suit the power hungry?

The arguments for why God is an inevitable construct of human imagination could fill a library, but then it too would look like a religion. Ironic. Science is not religion, it is a pursuit of knowledge on the basis that we are ignorant. The internet however is as close to a church as atheists can get.

It was pointed out to me during my Atheist's Holiday that the internet has changed everything for religion.

Go back a few decades and those who questioned whether God exists were a small voice in a big world. If you lived in urban Australia then your contemplation of such speculation was met by a church around every corner. You saw religion on TV and you saw cathedrals in the centre of your town. News readers would invoke reference to God on their sign off. God was everywhere, your heretical notions were insolent and naive.

Behold the internet, and there was much light. Instead of being a lonely figure in a religious world you were suddenly one of many. Literature like that of Dawkins was easy to access, along with some idea of just how many other people were thinking along the same lines. Suddenly that old church is the middle of main street no longer dominates the promenade, instead it just looks out of place and rather lonely.

The internet provided us with a way to share ideas without relying on the Church to guide the conversation. The tipping point draws near.

With the devil whispering sweet nothings into my ear we sat in front of the all mighty internet and rummaged through YouTube for fascinating conversation on the topic. We watched the debate between Hitchens and Shmuley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnMYL8sF7bQ), we relived a few other moments of Hitchens being interviewed in recent years (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uchPPbJep8g) and got a chance to see O'Reilly head to head with Dawkins even if only for a few minutes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ) and even Stephen Fry gets into the game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm1l7o-S8P4).

Ahh the internet, a genuine savior of the masses.

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