Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Richard Dawkins, father of the meme, on militant atheism

I have been doing some research on meme theory and applications, and recently read Richard Dawkins "The Selfish Gene," so I was interested when I saw that he had made a speech to TED. His talk was not specifically about memes, but was entitled, "An Atheist's call to arms." I think now that it was a hyperbole, aimed at jerking people out of their unexamined beliefs about atheism and religion, but it affected me differently. After I watched it last night, I found it was very influential as it served as a counterpoint to other ideas that I have been exposed to, and helped me to solidify some of my feelings. First it helped me to see that deep down, I am an Atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, Shinto, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Pagan, and every other religion out there. Yes, I included Atheism in under the heading of religion as defined by The Free Dictionary, " Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe." The kind of rhetoric that Dawkins uses is effective in helping people understand that Atheism is another legitimate choice, and that the desire by some people, especially in the US, to exclude its believers from the process of nation building is as foolish and nearsighted as any other kind of exclusionism. I do not believe that Atheism is any more "true" or "right" than any other religion. 

I do not want to be ruled by an atheocratic government any more than I want to be ruled by a theistic one. I do not want to be told that a choice that I make is wrong because the Bible says it is any more than I want to told that the choice I make is wrong because it's "lacking any coherent scientific argument," a bit of circular logic in itself. The Constitution calls for a separation of church and state in the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." As I stated in the previous paragraph, Atheism should be seen as just another religion with its tenants of Darwinism, and belief in phenomena that can be shown empirically only. Empiricism shows certain things to be true to within a tolerable margin of error, so one is expected to make similar kinds decisions about whether to believe or not. One Gospel of Science shows that breast feeding is good at one time and not so good at another. Empirical Shrouds of Turin are disputed for ages. People believe in the healing power of medicine and are able to cast away their crutches and walk again. None of that is any more believable or unbelievable than any other act of faith in any other religion in the world.

If Mr. Dawkins really believes that Atheism is the one true way, good on him, but childish arguments about who is superior to whom are no more helpful than G W Bush's war on Islam. "I believe a true understanding of Darwinism is corrosive to religious faith." And a true understanding of religious faith is corrosive to Darwinism, so go corrode each other and stay the hell out of my life. I'll still read what he has to say and listen to his speeches, especially when he talks about something that interests me as much as his meme theory, and hope that his speech on TED was just a wakeup call.

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