Nature Other

Atheism again

I said a few posts ago, about my own atheism, “I don’t believe in unicorns either, but I’m not about to go to any meetings about it.” Well, I haven’t been going to any atheist meetings, but I have been reading the comment threads at Pharyngula, which is a pretty good internet equivalent.

My own stance on evolution and religion is hard-line: I think the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, that anyone who doesn’t accept it is just plain wrong, and that standard compromise of evolution being somehow guided by God is just a muddle-headed cop-out. I get as angry as the next atheist at attempts to get creationism/ID taught in biology lessons. And as a social liberal, I don’t have much time for Christian fundamentalism in any circumstance, and I’ve done my fair share of internet Christian-baiting.

And yet, despite my own intellectual intolerance and the fact I share all the biases of the commenters at Pharyngula, I still find the atmosphere there toxic. There’s so much energy being expended on hostility and derision, such a sense of superiority on display. Anyone who rejects evolution – or believes in God, really – must obviously be an idiot or a liar. There’s not even an attempt to empathise with anyone who values faith over reason.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting soft. Or maybe I just recognise my own worse qualities in the people there. I should probably say, to be fair, that not everyone there matches the description I’ve just given. Perhaps no-one does, really; but that’s the overall tone of the site. And I should also point out the endless provocation from the anti-evolution people. But still. I’m tempted to say that I think it’s bad strategy, that they’re alienating more people than they’re persuading, but I have no idea. What I do think is that, for want of a less spiritually loaded term, it’s just bad karma.

4 replies on “Atheism again”

Evolutionary biologists are beginning to turn their attention to some of the social aspects of being human – such as spirituality and religion – and viewing them through the lens of evolutionary theory. I can see an argument running along the lines that belief may be an evolutionary adaption which has helped the species get where it is today, particularly as it gets individuals to act in support of a a genetically diverse society without any obvious payback to them. Their personal reward may be in Heaven, but the reward to their society is likely to be immediate and substantive.

I know that death is final, and anoxia in the brain is responsible for all the near death visions and the like, but I think I’ll be more comfortable about the dying process if I can convince myself that it’s not the end of ME. I just haven’t found a religion that meets all my particular needs yet.


I guess any site or meeting in which the majority of participants feel strongly for a certain position makes it hard for anyone to express a more moderate position. If, for example, you were a moderate Christian in a fundamentalist meeting and you expressed some empathy with those who didn’t believe or had doubts, you’d be stamped on, so you’d probably keep quiet. The only people likely to contradict the “official” position would be those deliberately out to provoke.

I do read The Loom, and I agree, it’s much more likeable venue. It seems to focus on what’s interesting about nature, rather than what’s annoying about religion.

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