I have a confession to make. Despite writing hundreds of blog posts that tear into creationist arguments and show the hypocrisy of many verbal attacks on atheists, I’ve never read any of the awareness-raising books by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or even Richard Dawkins’ blockbuster The God Delusion. Sure, I did pick up copies at the local bookstore and leafed through them to see if anything jumped out at me and caught my eye and what I noticed were either primarily philosophical arguments or conclusions to which I came to as a teenager. This is not to say that the books in question don’t have their merits, but for me, they were preaching to the choir. It’s nice to know you’re not alone in your ideas but that assurance doesn’t need to be constant.
Another problem with a number of popular atheist books is their constant ventures into philosophy, the tired, old stomping ground of anyone who thinks he has a profound idea and wants to discuss it without having to base the case on real world evidence and observations. But why should the people who understand that we’re not as knowledgeable as any human could be after reading a book or two and look for tangible evidence as a means to understand the world around them have to plunge into this rhetorical morass? Why not just stick to science and the facts? Why not just let the Chris Mooneys, the Terry Eagletons, the Nicholas Wades and the Karen Armstrongs of the world waft in the clouds while staying planted on terra firma to deal with the tangibles and observables? It’s fun to dream and ask what if, but you also need evidence to go with your big ideas.
And it’s at this point when post-modernists perk up and bring forth their epistemological noise. How could you know anything for sure? Don’t you know that everyone’s opinions are valid? Science is just a belief too and all the conclusions you get from your evidence are just your dogmas. It’s as if with each quote they’re trying to be as obtuse and metaphysical as possible, crafting shallow arguments and infusing them with enough rhetoric and high brow terminology to make them sound profound and insightful. I wonder how they could function in the real world if they really thought this way all the time. Did they wake up or do they believe they just woke up? Did they drink a cup of coffee or do they simply believe they drank something and it’s their belief that courses through their bloodstream to make them more alert? Did they go to work or do they just do something which may look like work to an outside observer? It’s this level of ridiculous, over the top doubt in everything that led Descrates to come up with his infamous brain in a jar conjecture best summarized in the Matrix trilogy.
When we step down from their mental ivory towers and really think about it, the assertion that science is just a belief or another way of creating dogmas is monstrously stupid. Simply put, if you believe in science, you have no idea what science is. You don’t believe that that there’s a couch in a coffee shop. You see it there. You can touch it, move it, smell it and it won’t suddenly vanish into thin air when you look away. You don’t believe in the sky being blue on a sunny day, you just look up and see it. And when was the last time that you believed in the existence of cars and planes? Looking at what’s out there, taking note of it, studying its properties based on what you can see, touch and smell is science. I never say that I believe in evolution because it’s a ridiculous thing to say. Instead, I looked at the available evidence on the subject and agreed that yes, this is the best way to explain how life came to be the way it is on this planet based on the available data.
The post-modernists can complain about the limitations of our senses and our technology but what seems to be lost on them is the cardinal rule of the scientific thought process. If you have no proof for it, you can’t insist that it’s real or objective. Because we don’t know something, we can’t randomly jam anything we want in there and pretend it’s a good idea. And this is exactly what we do when we involve deities for which we don’t have a shred of proof into processes we otherwise understand and want to explore in farther depth. To equate a way to describe the natural world through objective means with simply inserting one’s own opinion in the gaps of our knowledge and chalk both up to belief is an absurd assertion that can only be made by people who don’t understand the nature of science and can’t wrap their minds around the fact that it’s simply a methodology by which people accumulate and connect facts, not a set of answers to questions or ready made opinions.