This post is mostly a commentary to a friend’s post at the Huffington Post: Beware Secular Fundamentalism, by Ed Gurowitz, Ph.D.
I wanted to comment on the post, but realized I had too much to say to shoehorn it into a comment field, hence this post.
Ed has made an enormous contribution to my life through previous (lengthy) encounters, and is someone I highly regard. To get something from reading this, I recommend reading his post first.
I think there are (at least) two distinctive dimensions of the science v. religion debacle your post addresses.
Firstly, and I think you are right about this, there are militant atheists out there (Dr. Richard Dawkins coined the phrase Militant Atheist himself) who approach the science/religion contradiction in less than humble ways… Your expertise within the field of psychology naturally leads to interpreting the overreaction as fear based, and my lay man knowledge of the subject (you taught me most of it…) agrees with that, too.
However, while the actual HuffPost title reads ‘Beware Secular Fundamentalism’, your Facebook link says ‘Beware the Secular Taliban’. This probably explains some of the aggressiveness you point to: Getting carried away emotionally sometimes get the better of us. ‘Secular Taliban’ does seem to hit below the belt, and be motivated of the same kind of fear you are addressing on the other side of the fence, indicating how easy it is to fall into the trap… Anyway, I will for the rest of the post reply to ‘Secular Fundamentalism.’
Secondly, and more important, I feel you make clearly questionable assumptions. This dimension of your post is what I feel the need to comment:
a) You mention Albert Einstein, Freeman Dyson, Charles Darwin and align their world views with your own on this subject. Having read a bit Einstein and Darwin, I disagree: I think the argument can be made, that considering the times they lived in, and the religious pressure upon them that we (in Europe, at least) do not experience today, their own statements regarding religion would be clearer/harsher had they lived today, and that they would call themselves agnostics if not outright atheists.
I also believe this to be true of the founding fathers of the USA: The first amendment to the constitution of your great nation is so clear on separating church and state (make no law respecting an establishment of religion…) that, again, when considering their era, they would call themselves atheists.
b) We also seem to agree on institutional/organized religion; corrupt to the bone, in my view. I won’t list all human pain and misery caused by these, but herein lies the seed of skepticism and/or fear of religion, that I believe motivates many atheists to militant reactions.
I have nothing against religion as such; every human being has the right to believe whatever gets them through the night, but it seems to bring out (corruptible) leaders that gathers followers, that then tries to impose their world view on the rest of us, using more or less force.
And that is certainly something worth while being afraid of.
Of course, this only explains the militant reactions, it doesn’t excuse them.
If anything, atheism must be fundamentalistic. It is not about fairy tales, miracles, dogmas, façade and fancy clothing: It’s about fundamentals, what’s real, physical and concrete. We don’t know if there is a God or not (agnosticism), but we can for sure claim inability to see her. So the reasonable approach would be to call it as we see it: there is no God (atheism).
There are no reasonable arguments for the existence of God. So then why do we have them? Probably because we invented them. God did not create man, man created god.
(I know, there are no reasonable arguments against God, either, but I’m pretty sure the arguments for came first)
To me then, there is far too little fundamentalism within the atheistic movement: When it comes to the wishful thinking (paradise, 72 virgins, walking on water) of religions, fundamentalism in the very essence of the word (from ‘found’ – what’s there as opposed to not there) is the way to go.
If we know nothing for sure, then why invent arguments for ‘something’ and then aim to persuade others to agree with it? Here again, I feel atheists have a justified fear of the slippery slope from “wow, what a great personal, mystical experience – how should I interpret this?” into “It is so, because God spoke to me! You should believe this too!”
d) I think Monsieur Pascal is copping out. And that is highly offensive.
e) I’m a big fan of Carl Sagan, the cosmologist, and he said something like “priests, rabbis and imams would never admit their arguments for their ‘one and only’ religion are wrong, while scientists in the face of new evidence will change sides in an argument about scientific truth (ok, at least sometimes…)
Overall, though, you address something that science needs to hear: entice more, criticize less, the future of humanity hangs upon it!
PS! If you read this, Ed, I hope we can continue the discussion in Malmö in August!