I have been an atheist for almost fifty years, however I’m far from being one of Richard Dawkins’ admirers. Politics is the problem for me.
It would be foolish in the extreme to deny that atheist regimes have been a raging disaster of epic proportions. Tens of millions of deaths and rising – try to brush that aside without leaving a vast moral hole in your personal philosophy. It’s like trying to lick the Augean stables clean – leaves a bad taste and gets you nowhere.
So where does that leave an atheist who feels inclined to enter the God debate? With an extremely serious dilemma I’d say, especially now the scientific method is such a crock. We can’t worship at that alter any longer, not without a cauterized sense of smell and some very large and ungainly blinkers.
Science a crock? Well maybe such a sweeping statement deserves a modicum of elaboration, but no more. I’ll drop climate change, passive smoking and peer review into that modicum – just to spice up the flavour of the debate you understand. Because I certainly don’t see how we can separate science from the antics of scientists.
Most of where we are today was achieved by a process we could just as easily call engineering as science – we must not be misled by names. Practical trial and error if you like. The kind of thing Josiah Wedgwood was so brilliant at – and was he not a scientist by any practical criterion? After all, his meticulous trials of pottery bodies and glazes were in effect chemical experiments – or early experiments in material science if you prefer.
The idea that science has been some pristine mode of human thought guiding our progress since the days of Galileo is just far too naive and idealistic – at least for me.
I spent all of my working life as a professional scientist and it there isn’t anything noble about it. Science is merely a job – it pays the mortgage. It can be interesting, frustrating and rewarding just like any other job, but rarely moral in any important sense. Science certainly isn’t a viable personal philosophy.
So back to the question of God. My philosophy is that if that’s how people view the cosmos then who am I to argue? I don’t see the cosmos through God, but seeking to impose my personal philosophy on others isn’t part of my personal philosophy.
Why? Partly personal inclination and partly because atheism has no moral dimension. It’s a negative, something you don’t have rather than something you do. So my own atheism has never been a big deal for me. There are more tractable problems which need moral alignment between rational people.
How to define rational people though? In my view, not via their religious beliefs or their lack of belief because that’s too divisive. More likely through their grasp of moral imperatives, their unwillingness to seek control over others, their adherence the most fundamental moral law.
Do as you would be done by.
We waste an enormous amount of time pursuing unwinnable arguments. And yes – these pursuits can be compulsive in a kind of competitive, must have the last word kind of way, but argument is almost entirely futile. It doesn’t help nurture worthwhile moral alignments. Because if you believe in liberty, in do as you would be done by, then moral alignment is the goal to be pursued and in no sense whatever is it an atheist goal.
Other differences in personal philosophy, though important, are not necessarily those to be pursued in tackling more immediate threats to our well-being. And of course I mean our moral well-being which in the end is what liberty is all about – the freedom to be a moral agent.