I’ve been thinking a lot lately. It’s not really my fault, though. I’ve stumbled across a few blogs written by atheists and–purely out of curiosity, I swear–I’ve read a few of their posts. Most of the points they made were, to be honest, right on the mark. The ensuing discussions in the comment sections, however, made me want to pull my hair out. I decided I’d write a little about my perspective on it, but found myself up against almost insurmountable problems.
I’m relatively new to atheism. I’ve only stopped believing in God within about the past twelve months. Because of that, I still have a fairly fresh memory of my previous absolute certainty of God’s existence and His glorious nature. At the same time, though, I feel so stupid for having believed it. Was I really that gullible? So I understand that people who feel compelled to defend God are acting out of complete sincerity and are doing so only because they are deluded and don’t know the truth. Which, in turn, is exactly what they think about those of us who no longer buy the story. And the comments on the blogs kept revolving around this central issue: “I’ve got the truth and you completely refuse to see it.” The rebuttal to which, of course, was: “No, I‘ve got the truth and you completely refuse to see it.” Is there no way to find common ground? Is there no approach to this issue that works for both sides? And then I realized: the atheists have got it wrong.
As I’ve been trying to write this blog post, I found I kept falling prey to a couple of tendencies. First was the urge to be snarky. I mean, all the ridiculous things that I used to believe? They are so obvious, how can you not poke fun at someone who believes them? Take Pastafarianism. From the perspective of an atheist, it clearly demonstrates the utter ridiculousness of belief in any mythology, and in particular that of Christianity. Yet far from resoundingly refuting the claims of believers through counterexample, it actually makes the discussion more difficult. Despite the fact that religious believers sincerely hold beliefs that are completely deserving of being mocked, mocking them, unfortunately, doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Well, besides being fun and probably a little therapeutic. It’s tempting. But ultimately ineffective.
The second tendency is to try to resort to logic. If proof by absurdity doesn’t work, it seems reasonable that people could be swayed by good old fashioned logic. Again, though, people see what they want to see, and accept as true things which tend to corroborate their previously held beliefs and reject anything that doesn’t. If you want proof, do yourself a favor and spend an hour watching this video. Oh. The favor? Handcuff yourself first so you don’t bruise your forehead from repeated facepalms. (Consider yourself warned.) And watch it not for the information it holds, but for the way that people insulate themselves from anything that might make them change their beliefs. And after you’ve watched it, ask yourself: if I came into this video believing the exact opposite of what I believe, would my frustration not have been for the stupidity and blindness of the person I had previously found myself agreeing with?
So if logic doesn’t help people change their minds, and if we can’t make fun of people who hide from uncomfortable truths, how can we shape our dialog with these people? I think that’s the first place atheists get it wrong. We’re asking the wrong questions.
It’s kind of ironic. God didn’t create Man. Man created God. Yet nobody gets it. Religious people won’t admit it, and atheists, while only too happy to declare it, don’t fully appreciate its ramifications. You see, even atheists get evolution wrong.
I’ve often thought of the short-sightedness of those who ignore–to their peril (ha! I’ve always wanted to say that)–the power of evolution. Atheists, of all people, should embrace evolution. They should recognize that God is as much a product of evolution as is Man. Just as various life forms, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, competed over the course of billions of years to produce increasingly effective life forms, once Man hit the scene and developed language, various god memes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, competed over the course of hundreds of thousands of years to produce increasingly effective god memes. What we have today are the god memes that have been most effective for the environment. We have logic-resistant god memes.
But evolution isn’t finished.
We’ve found ourselves thrust into the middle of a very interesting story, and in our short-sightedness, we sometimes forget that we aren’t at the end of the story. We think that we, as homo sapiens, are the ultimate end of evolution. We call ourselves the highest evolved form of life, the pinnacle of evolution. But that’s only true today. Evolution isn’t finished. We’re not the end product. We’re likely only a middling, mediocre player in what will someday be a far more advanced species than we are. And there’s a very good possibility that we are not even among the ancestors of that future species. (Dinosaurs, anyone? They not only lost their place on the top of the animal kingdom, but their best-known descendants today? Chickens. Chickens! [Okay, okay. Maybe not.]) Homo sapiens, despite our arrogance, may not be the missing link for what evolution comes up with next. How’s that for some perspective?
And not only are we not the pinnacle of evolution, evolution’s job isn’t to reach that pinnacle. Evolution doesn’t produce the most ideal design. It produces increasingly effective designs. But effective at what? At reproducing. At surviving. Evolution doesn’t guarantee intelligence. It doesn’t guarantee strength. Those things are nice when they result in a better chance at surviving and reproducing, but they are by no means requirements. In fact, if increased intelligence or increased strength make reproducing and surviving less likely, then the evolutionary process will decrease the prevalence of such traits in the next generation.
The same is true for the god meme. Atheists, so smug to have debunked the myths around God, are only serving as the necessary predatory forces that cull the weak god memes, leaving room for the stronger to evolve, to grow, to become bigger and more powerful, more resistant to attack.
Here’s where atheists get it wrong. And conversely, where religion gets it right.
1. Atheists rely too much on the infallibility of rationality. Sure, it’s reasonable to be reasonable. But don’t forget that the arguments for God involve actively ignoring reason. Faith is a choice, not an argument. We think that if we can show that it’s highly unlikely for god to exist, that reasonable people will conclude with us that he doesn’t. But the god memes that have survived have developed a certain immune system, a defense mechanism against that approach. Believers are taught that their faith will be tested by arguments that sound reasonable to Man, but that God requires a higher faith. Yeah. Some individuals will still yield to reason. But the god meme itself has largely shrugged off that attack.
Reason vs. faith? I can’t pick a clear winner.
2. Atheists act rationally on an individual level, but irrationally on a larger scale. Atheists believe in evolution, yet fail to exploit its very mechanisms, and ignore that the religiously minded are walking lock-step with evolution’s key power. Evolution doesn’t give preference to the most optimal design. It gives preference to the most effective. The life forms of the future will share many traits of the life forms that pass on their genes. So what do atheists do? They are rational. They look at the world as it is and say, “You know. I don’t want to have any children. Or, at most, one or two.” In a world where most children adopt the faith of their parents, why does it surprise us that rationalism doesn’t win out over procreation? Evolution is agnostic to idealism. All else being equal, it will always favor the group that preaches “don’t use birth control” over the group that decides that having offspring is overrated.
Birth control vs. rampant breeding? The evolutionary results are clearly in favor of the latter.
Atheists are fighting the wrong battles. They don’t need to argue for rationalism. They need to get busy having more kids. Kids who share their genes, and hence their predisposition to rationalism.
Wow. It almost sounds like I’m advocating atheists have more sex….
Okay. Yes. I suppose I am. Hot heathen atheist sex. And more of it. Atheists, consider this your call to action. Do your part to help the movement. Stop screwing around with endless arguing, and start screwing around with endless, um, screwing around.
After all, isn’t that what your Christian friends already assume you’re doing anyway?
Oops. I guess I succumbed to just a touch of snarkiness after all.