Over on UK’s Guardian, Julian Baggini, long-time philosophy writer, calls for atheists to be humble and group with theists to form a “Coalition of the Reasonable”.
Um… since when is religion reasonable?
To be honest, this has been Baggini’s schtick for a while, he’s one of those wonderful accomodationists who think that everyone ought to put aside their differences, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
Baggini complains that atheists are unwilling to give ground. Damn straight! Why? Because we’re RIGHT! This isn’t like theists claiming they’re right while being utterly unable to demonstrate anything remotely of the sort, this is like scientists talking to pseudo-scientists. Pseudo-scientists make claims that they are utterly unable to back up and scientists can produce evidence that entirely disproves the position of the pseudo-scientists. Quite often, the pseudo-scientists will pull the same kind of accomodationist crap. “Meet us in the middle! Give some ground!” No. Reality doesn’t have to give ground to fantasy. This isn’t about finding middle ground, it’s about discovering what’s actually true.
He gives a couple of reasons why he thinks we ought to seek a middle ground.
The first set is pragmatically political and social. It’s just not good to have families, streets, neighbourhoods or nations divided by faith, or lack of it.
This isn’t a political or social-based argument though, this is a reality-based argument. We’re trying to determine if god(s) factually exist or not. If they do not, then families, streets, neighborhoods or nations ought not be divided by faith, they ought to reject faith altogether. If debating with the Neo-Nazis, you don’t go looking for common ground, places where it’s a-ok to hate the Jews. We fight racism and sexism and hatred of all kinds because it is wrong, we do not give ground to preserve social or political peace.
There is, however, another set of considerations that can provide a firmer basis for co-existence. It starts from a recognition that we are all flawed human beings with prejudices formed from our social backgrounds and limitations created by our education, intellectual weaknesses and other cognitive blind spots. Of course, this is in some sense true of psychopaths, obsessives and lunatics, so a real connection also needs a sense of common central ethical and intellectual values that show others are engaged in the same project as us. In the search for common ground in the religion debate, I suggest the virtues of sincerity, charity and modesty can do this work.
Notice the one thing he never mentions anywhere in his article is “reality”. He’s not concerned what’s real. He just doesn’t care. All he wants is peaceful co-existence. Now while there’s nothing wrong with that, the fact is that you have two diametrically opposed positions. At best, one of them is factually true and the other factually false. Certainly, both can be false, but in no case can both be true. For those of us who are dedicated to accepting the most factually true things in life and rejecting the most factually false, we cannot compromise because that requires a compromise of core principles. That’s not a psychopathic, obsessive or lunatic position to hold, in fact, it is the most rationally and logically defensible position possible. That’s the problem with accomodationsts like Baggini, he’s not interested in being logical or rational, he just wants everyone to be friends.
By sincerity, I don’t mean simply that people genuinely believe what they say. Rather, they are making a genuine effort to discover the truth and are able to question honestly the beliefs they were brought up with or have adopted in adult life. As some put it, they are fellow seekers.
Of course, that’s not the case with theists. They are not seekers, they have already found what they believe is the right position and are no longer looking. If you’ve had any serious discussions with theists, you know that getting them to question their preconceived notions is nigh impossible, they cling desperately to what they already think is true, not because they have any evidence to support it, but because they have an overwhelming emotional attachment to it. They want it to be true. They want it so strongly that they cannot conceive of any possibility that it is not. They are not seekers, they are fanatics.
I’m not saying there cannot be or are not fanatic atheists out there. There certainly are, I’ve run into them. I put them in the exact same camp as the fanatic theists though, they are certainly no better or worse, they suffer from the same inability to question and examine their beliefs rationally and are thus, altogether as religious as the believers on the other side of the fence. Rational people do not hate theists, simply because they are theists, they hate the irrational because they are irrational. That goes for the irrational of all stripes, not just the ones who believe in imaginary friends in the sky, but for those who believe in ghosts, leprechauns, Bigfoot, spirit energy, Chupacabras and honest politicians. There’s no reason for anyone to think any of these things actually exist, thus there is no rational reason for anyone, anywhere, to believe that they actually do. It’s entirely possible that we might discover real, physical, objective evidence for a Chupacabra tomorrow. It’s unlikely, but hey, it could happen. Until it actually does happen though, there’s no reason to think that it’s real and no one ought to do so.
One of the most important things I have learned over this series is that attempting to forge an alliance between people of “liberal” faith and atheists based on shared beliefs results in a very small club indeed: worth joining, but unlikely to make much impact.
I don’t know that there’s much common ground whatsoever. It’s like asking for common ground between white supremacists and blacks. Yes, you might find a couple black people who think whites really are superior, but as Baggini says, it’s unlikely to make much impact. I’m not going to try to make white supremacists feel better about their absurd beliefs, just because I want to form a dialogue with them. They, like theists, have already lost that dialogue, they’ve totally thrown their rational, logical minds to the wind and embraced something for which they cannot defend or support objectively. I don’t have to chase them around and pat them on the head, trying to make them feel better about believing a load of crap, all I have to do is point out that they believe a load of crap. They are wrong, not I.
Of course, in reality there is no neat divide between the reasonable and the unreasonable: it’s a case or more/less, not either/or.
Wrong, there is a neat divide. It’s made on one side of people who can provide evidence of their beliefs and who reject things for which evidence cannot be provided, and on the other of people who cannot. The only excuse accomodationists can offer is that some people are stupid and irrational. Sorry, we’re supposed to be impressed by that? Really?
That’s why I’ve often had more fruitful dialogues with some Catholics and evangelicals than I have with some fellow atheists.
That’s because Baggini doesn’t care about truth or fact, he just wants a bunch of back slapping. Whether he likes it or not, a proposition is either right or it is wrong. If it is wrong, it needs to be corrected and those who refuse to correct it should not be encouraged, they should be challenged. There is no “coalition of the reasonable” if half the people involved are unreasonable. Refusal to reject a false belief simply is not reasonable.
People like Baggini are as much of the problem and perhaps more than the “reasonable” theists they support. They want atheists and liberal theists to band together to fight the religious crazies but they miss the fact that the liberal theists are just as crazy as the fundamentalists in the eyes of the atheists. Believing in the irrational in any degree is a problem. Just because one isn’t fondling poisonous snakes and chugging poison doesn’t make their beliefs any more likely to be true. You simply cannot argue that this group of crazies is better than that group of crazies to a group of people who don’t want crazy people at all.