Friday, June 20, 2008

When bad satire attacks

Found this theist apologist attempt at humorous rebuttal to the recent popular movement for atheists to "come out". The sarcasm actually highlights not the flaws in the atheist thinking but, ironically, the flaws in the apologism.

She starts off by wondering, tongue in cheek, why there are so few female atheists. The implication is that there's some special kind of truth to which female minds may have access, which male minds do not. She makes this point explicitly, later on:
"...across the world, in every religion and not just among the [believers], women are far more likely than men to keep [God's] institutions going strong — more likely to attend church (or whatever), more likely to pray, more likely to indoctrinate their spawn into the same rituals, and so blubbery on.

Now don’t You all think that’s an important Fact? And even more important, why do You think it is a fact? Because it seems to me that there can only be one of two explanations for this gender bender: either Females really are intellectually Deficient compared to Males; or, something about the way they live gives them ideas that men don’t have."
Now a classical 60's feminist might bristle at the implication that men and women are different at all (though we are) but most of us would find fault with the idea that women are less capable of thinking rationally and dispassionately, even if it's not always their default or preferred mode. Yet she then goes on to argue:
"Some of the [believers], for example, come to believe in [God] for one kind of family reason — say, because they love their husbands or wives too much to believe that death really cuts the two apart forever. Even more people — way more, from what this Former Christian has seen — are drawn to belief because they feel that way about their brats. They think in the craziest way that there’s something infinite about their love for their children, something that transcends these finite shackles of our Cells — and they infer from that powerful feeling that love really is stronger than Death, as their stupid old book says somewhere."
This boils down to arguing that love is wonderful, and we'd prefer it to be true that wonderful things last forever; therefore we'll believe what we have to in order to believe love lasts forever. Because something feels permanent, it is.

I hear Viagra can make some things feel permanent.

Ok, but seriously:

Granted, this is how many people come to "faith", and as Kierkegaard pointed out, one doesn't come to faith through reason, as that's not faith but knowledge. All faith is intrinsically irrational. Theists just seem not to see that this makes it self-evidently unsound thinking. It doesn't prove it wrong (I feel like the acceleration due to gravity on Earth is 9.8m/s/s...), just that it's not necessarily right. We don't think the dudes with tin foil hats who feel the CIA is trying to read their thoughts with spy satelites have actually hit on some kind of truth with their special feeling sense. Why should we pay any attention to folks who argue "I feel that love is permanent, ergo, it is. Also there is a heaven and a God and everything else required to make my special feeling last forever, because I want it to."?

She then goes on to imply that atheists believe what they do in order to be free of moral constraints. She's wrong on several levels here, but the most ironic is that her own argument provides a good counterpoint: She says believing in God (and an afterlife and a way for her feelings to live on forever) is comforting, or at least that, it would be emotionally terrible to think that she, and all her amazing feelings will poof out of existence when she dies. Which implies to me that Theism is actually the more emotionally convenient delusion. Most theists are willing to trade a lifetime of living by "the Rules" for a shot at continued existence. Knowing that it's all meaningless and that existence is temporary isn't the most cheery perspective. But it's true. I won't argue that one is more happy than the other, but she doesn't balance the equation right. One one hand, no right and wrong rules enforced by a supreme being, but no afterlife. On the other, rules, and an afterlife.

Atheists can and do have morals, of course, but I'll just set that aside for now.

Then there's the implication that atheists are somehow anti-family. Many of us are against filling the world up with more children than needed. And many of us think that non heterosexual folks should have the same rights as heterosexual folks to family formation. But it doesn't mean we think there's anything wrong with traditional families. We do cringe when folks think Jesus wants them to have 17 children. But if John and Suzy Normal want to crank out a couple of replacement copies, most atheists won't mind. So she's setting up a straw man.

She then even descends into some ID-infused thinking, though without the usual total failure to understand evolution:
"You see, it’s just very, very difficult for most mothers and fathers to look at their children and to understand as we Brights do that those creatures are randomly assembled confections of molecules and limbs that have been Adapting willy-nilly since the lungfish. That just isn’t how most people feel about their babies and children — ever."
Again with the whining that she doesn't want it to be true that we're not designed. Hell, I don't want it to be true that I'm not really the mutant Colossus from X-men. I mean, I so identify with his "sensitive boy on the inside, indestructible hard shell on the outside that sometimes cuts him off from other people" plight. But I'm not a superhero, and no one designed us. Both are inconsistent with the evidence to the contrary.

Yes, this is written in the National Review, but I continue to hope that there's something to be gained from listening to all perspectives, especially in the arenas of economics and public policy. The sooner the conservatives can jettison the religious right, the sooner they'll have their intellectual credibility restored. I'm just shocked that they'd print a piece that boils down to "My mommy love makes me believe in Jebus". They can do better. I hope.