Gradual, Passive Secularization is Too Slow
We live in a postmodern society: in fact, in the most promising one that has ever existed. We have cured epidemics, created previously unimaginable transportation and communications systems, conceived methods of going to different worlds and have seen life spans and life qualities go up at near exponential rates. But technological advances aren’t the only significant ones we’ve seen: violence rates are at their all time low, literacy in the United States stands at 99 percent, we have now one of the highest (and fastest growing) rates of adult college graduation and we have battled harmful behavioral trends like racism, sexism and homophobia to such extents that we now have systems in place like affirmative action that aim to eradicate these wrongs.
So why is it that in such a wealthy, innovative and even enlightened society there are so much of us who still believe in and adhere to the same ridiculous superstitions that our forefathers did 500,000 years ago? In the venerated words of George Carlin, “Religion convinced the world that there’s an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there are 10 things he doesn’t want you to do or else you’ll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you! … And he needs money! He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!”
Adhering to laws called for by unfounded beliefs, regardless of how harmless we might find them, is a momentous danger to reason and science. Any belief that requires superstitious literalism (philosophical interpretations of religions like Buddhism and non-theistic ones like Unitarian Universalism are certainly excluded from this list) requires us to reject scientific principles without offering any substantiation for its claims. And rejecting science is simply hazardous. I would like extend the compliment that philosopher Daniel Dennett used to describe Darwin’s theory of evolution to science in general: it is the “single best idea that anyone has ever had.” The scientific method has redefined our method of factual acquisition, and anything that causes us to ignore it must be destroyed. Our society may be on the path of secularization, but we need to actively streamline the process in order to achieve true intellectual and scientific progress. We must forgo the political correctness and disinclination towards confrontation and begin actively arguing against religion. Faith is ignorance, and ignorance is not something that we must be forced to “respect.” We ought to be respectful of people, but to their “beliefs” we owe no such courtesy. I repeat, unjustified ignorance is not something we ought to just accept. If we are serious about spreading rationality, we need to express the reasoning behind atheism instead of just accepting it as some “alternate belief system.”
Self-labeled atheists and agnostics may be a minority in this country, but we are expanding as quickly as the population is becoming more educated (fact: intelligence and religiosity have a nearly perfect inverse relationship: as levels of intelligence amongst a population rise, religiosity falls exponentially). These numbers are also largely underestimated: many atheists/agnostics label themselves in polls as members of established religions for ethnic and traditional reasons. For more information on these, read my article published early in the school year where I reveal that a majority of Americans who identify themselves as ‘Jews’ are actually atheists. Such trends, though in smaller intensities, are also evident in all other deistic religions.
I realize that I didn’t dedicate any space in my article for explaining why atheism should be adopted and why theism is invalid. I don’t plan on addressing the institution of religion at all because I find its fallacies far too obviously evident (if anyone actually doubts that it is not a man-made construct, I would advise that you read about the anthropology of religion). I also don’t offer a conclusive argument against the existence of the supernatural because I don’t believe that one exists. However, I also don’t think that this is a challenge to my argument. The following short group of points explains why:
1. Any scientific theory (such as gravity and plate tectonics) may conceivably be incorrect.
2. However, to our physical knowledge, scientific theories are correct and there is no sensible reason to doubt them.
3. Tenets of theism contradict tenets of science.
4. Therefore, because we should operate the world in accordance to the best, most accurate principles we know of (those of science), we must assume that theism is incorrect.
This should explain why viewpoints like “teapot agnosticism” are suboptimal. Sure, there might be the near-zero, conceptual chance that some teapot is orbiting the world with supernatural powers. However such a situation would violate many of our fundamental physical laws. Because there is no reason to assume these laws to be false, there is also no reason to assume such a situation to be possible.