Sorry, Mr. Dawkins, atheism is not the answer.
One of the things that often frustrates me is that people, even incredibly intelligent people, often pose simple answers as solutions to very complex problems. Anyone who has read any bit about this blog knows that I am an unabashed agnostic-atheist. Over at d-C, Karen wrote an interesting article that I think adequately sums up where I stand as well. I recognize that I will never be in a position to be a prominent spokesman for atheism, nor would I really want to be. I am often frustrated, however, by those who are prominent spokespersons for atheism.
In 2007, Richard Dawkins gave a speech at TED in which he received a roar of laughter when he kiddingly announced he is suggesting “militant atheism.” Dawkins’ speech has a two-fold message: (1) Darwinism is corrosive to religion, (2) atheists should ‘come out’ and be confident about attacking religion as a whole. One of the fascinatingly naive underpinning philosophies of the major voices for atheism today (Dawkins, Hitchens, the fine folks at the “Rational Response Squad”) is that if humanity eliminates religion from the world, everything will simply ‘work itself out.’
Take this picture I’ve seen on dozens of websites and blogs:
As one captivated by the world of politics, I am familiar with the ideas of spin and shaping perceptions. I genuinely hope that some of the highly intelligent people who boast images such as this recognize that eliminating religion does not eliminate suffering and evil. One need look no further than Soviet Russia under Stalin to recognize that atheism does not equal utopia.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not switching sides. I think the world will be an increasingly better place as the influence of religion loses its potency. But religion is only one symptom of larger problems. Around the middle of the 20th century, physicist Enrico Fermi asked what became known as the “Fermi Paradox,” given the vastness of the universe, why do we see no evidence of advanced life? Carl Sagan, among others, has suggested (and this is and can only be speculation) that as life develops to the point of ability to communicate beyond their own planet, they may likely destroy themselves. For us, the increasing ability to observe the universe is occurring simultaneous to our ability to destroy the entire world easily and immediately (imagine if the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone the other way).
The history of humanity is a history of mutual destruction. Children learn history by reference of wars. The time between wars is often what is more fuzzy in our minds. We discovered sticks and used them to hit one another, then someone realized they could throw a stone from further away and avoid being hit by the other’s stick. Sticks and stones gave way to swords and bows. These gave way to muskets, which led to cannons and missiles and eventually nuclear warheads. Currently leaders in the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Pakistan, India and Israel have the capability to destroy the world in moments. Not to mention any lost warheads from the breakup of the Soviet Union and attempts by Iran and North Korea to develop their own nuclear arsenals.
Humanity has a long way to go to learn to control its aggressive tendencies. I am hopeful though that this is possible. The Cold War ended without firing a nuclear warhead. Democracies allow forums for non-violent means of resolving conflict. The United Nations, perhaps impotent now, offers hope for a brighter future without war.
Would 9/11 have occurred without the fundamentalist religious dogmas of extremist Islam? Perhaps not. But without this religious influence, there would be other wars. There would be other non-religious extremist sects.
Now, I am not opposed to the concept of attempting to reduce the influence of religion on humanity. I desire as much as Richard Dawkins that the American dollar will one day replace “In God We Trust” with “In Ourselves We Trust.” But I am not naive enough to believe that stripping religions of their credentials will solve the worlds problems. Religion is but on symptom of the problems we face. The same people who follow religions will follow dynamic leaders or jump on the bandwagons of causes without truly examining them.
Atheism is qualitatively better than theism. Atheism is not, however, the answer to all the world’s problems.