Monday, May 27, 2013

How Atheism Poisoned Science

There's peas in my fudge!
 This rant is, in some respects, a response to a video series produced by Thunderf00t, entitled "Why Feminism is Poisoning Atheism", in the sense of one movement claiming other movements are poisoning them.

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a controversy between religion and science. You went to science class to learn how the world works and you went to Sunday School, if you did at all (I did not) to learn, well, whatever it is you learn in Sunday School. If you learned about the Abrahamic* traditions' collective creation myths from a parent or grandparent, you didn't come back with some nonsense about abiogenesis needing more time than that to actually work. You were a kid, and you filed that in the back of your mind where the memories are stored, between the Book of Collected Haida Myths and the Norse Book of Legends, somewhere in the same general area you stuffed Harry Potter (which was back then what I suppose Artemis Fowl is now... though that was also a good read...).

About the same time I got to high school, though, the idea of a war between the sciences and religion-collectively started gaining some traction in the world. For the most part, I blame any minor local-scale problems in that area on a heady mixture of teenage rebellion and bad evangelization on the part of the parents. On the larger scene, it really all became a problem when Bill O'Reilly, who we have all got to stop taking seriously as anything other than an example of Poe's Law of Satire in action, decided that someone, somewhere, had declared a War on Christmas.

And that whole fiasco really got started when an atheist group put out a sign at a state display of holiday-season, well, displays. Somewhere between the Christmas Tree, Festivus Pole, and the Eight-Armed Candelabra, someone put up a sign that actually said there was no god. Which, I suppose, is what the Festivus Pole was, but our modern society doesn't receive information natively via symbols anymore.

I'm not saying it's not okay to be an Atheist. You can be whatever you want. If your own logically-derived conclusions on the nature of the universe do not support the idea of believing in things you cannot experience empirically, go to town. If it arrives at the idea that Mountain Dew is the font of all wisdom and we should all bow down before Grommash Hellscream in reverence of its Melony Goodness, well then, power to you, you crazy Azerothian.

What wasn't okay, though, was how Atheism, really through no fault of its own, claimed the moral high ground of science. As it happens, the two are not related in any way. I'm willing to bet a properly conducted poll would show that there are at least as many admitted theists in the field as there are admitted atheists, though certainly the population of Atheists in the scientific community is going to be higher than among laymen as a matter of course.

What happened, though, is that Atheism decided science was its own. As a result, reactionary Christian groups suddenly remembered that they don't trust scientists, and the Young Earth Creationists and "intellegent design" advocates ginned up their false-controversy machines to somehow show that science just wasn't Christian.

Science in the west may have had its earliest beginnings in the Greeks, and their ideas may have been carried into the future of the ancient world by the Muslims, but science as we have come to understand it first got its real start when the Renaisance hit. The Church came to accept science. It was Christianity that brought about the first western universities, the first real centres of discovery and education, and it is those old, vaunted universities that are still considered the centres of excellence for the scientific community today.

So, atheism loses a point for scaring the fundamentalists... but really, that could just as easily have been any group, claiming science as their own, when really, it just belongs to all of us, collectively.

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