by Denyse O'Leary
The main problem with atheists, it seems to me, is not their Godless Sunday at home. In bad weather, I envy them that, actually.
No, the main problem is that they can't resist starting a church - hence the Beyond Belief conference, essentially an effort to institutionalize atheism:
Just 40 years after a famous TIME magazine cover asked "Is God Dead?" the answer appears to be a resounding "No!" According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, "God is Winning". Religions are increasingly a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Fundamentalist movements-some violent in the extreme-are growing. Science and religion are at odds in the classrooms and courtrooms. And a return to religious values is widely touted as an antidote to the alleged decline in public morality. After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct belief, and experience empathy, fear, and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?
Then what, indeed? A church without Jesus, apparently. The media were quick to pick up on that. As The New York Times described the meeting,
Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.
Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.
Indeed, New Scientist went as far as to describe the meeting thusly:
IT HAD all the fervour of a revivalist meeting. True, there were no hallelujahs, gospel songs or swooning, but there was plenty of preaching, mostly to the converted, and much spontaneous applause for exhortations to follow the path of righteousness. And right there at the forefront of everyone's thoughts was God.
Yet this was no religious gathering - quite the opposite. Some of the leading practitioners of modern science, many of them vocal atheists, were gathered last week in La Jolla, California, for a symposium entitled "Beyond belief: Science, religion, reason and survival" hosted by the Science Network, a science-promoting coalition of scientists and media professionals convening at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. They were there to address three questions. Should science do away with religion? What would science put in religion's place? And can we be good without God?
Now, the church - as we all know - is the weak point of any religion. And when all you've got is a church - and remember, these people are supposed to be "beyond" belief - well, to me, that sounds a bit like getting married and finding out that you have no spouse but two mothers-in-law ... and more too, if you want them!
Here's a transcript of an exchange, courtesy of a friend, that gives the general idea of how the atheists would go about evangelism:
Tyson: I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don't. That's really what we've got to address here. Otherwise the public is secondary to this. [Moderator then turns to the panel for responses.]
Larry Krauss: It's hard to know how to respond to Neil, ever. But the question you asked about "Why 15%" disturbs me a little bit because of this other presumption that scientists are somehow not people and that they don't have the same delusions -- I mean, how many of them are pedophiles in the National Academy of Sciences? How many of them are Republicans? [laughter] And so, it would be amazing, of course, if it were zero. That would be the news story. But the point is I don't think you'd expect them in general to view their religion as a bulwark against science or to view the need to fly into buildings or whatever. So the delusions or predilections are important to recognize, that scientists are people and are as full of delusions about every aspect of their life as everyone else. We all make up inventions so that we can rationalize our existence and why we are who we are.
Tyson: But Lawrence, if you can't convert our colleagues, why do you have any hope that you're going to convert the public?
Krauss: I don't think we have to convert those people. They're fine. That's the point. They're doing science. I don't understand why you need to do that.
(Session 2, from the conclusion of a talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium. (beginning at the 40:47 mark in the clip))
Hmmm. You see what I mean about no spouse but two mothers-in-law? Here are some other highlights:
Goodness, it's hard to think of a single reason for joining these people's sect unless you have a lot of hostility to vent! And $30 billion from Bill Gates isn't going to change that.
Actually, it's hard to tell whether some of these people hate Christians more than they hate each other. Thus I would argue against any atheist getting involved with them, on mental health grounds alone.
Advice to atheists: If you must be an atheist, stay away from the Church of Atheism (Hostile). They don't "just want your money" - it's worse than that - they want to mess your head. Stay home on Sunday then and listen to classical music. (Avoid finding out that most of the great musicians were believers as long as possible.)
But ... dear reader, lest you think that no atheist could come up with an idea that might attract the public, have a look at the teen-directed Blasphemy Challenge.
(Note: See also Dennis Wagner's comments, also on this site.)
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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