Archive for the ‘Invisible Pink Unicorn’ Category

Why arguing about religion matters

December 2, 2006

Recently, I got myself invovled in an argument about religion with a guy named Lou.

Lou was objecting to a claim made by George Carlin. Carlin was stating categorically that there is no god. Lou was up in arms because Carlin cannot possibly know, nor can he prove, that there is no god.

Now, as many atheists know, the legendary thinker Bertrand Russell dealt with this argument 50 odd years ago. His response was the Celestial Teapot. Summarized, it says that we have no way to disprove the existence of a small china teapot orbiting the sun. The fact that we cannot disprove the teapot thesis does not make the teapot thesis true. It doesn’t even make it likely to be true. Russell’s point was that this accurately describes one of the cornerstones of the “religious debate”. The religious often claim that our inability to prove that god doesn’t exist somehow increases the likelihood that god does exist. According to Russell (and anyone prepared to think about it a little) this is complete hogwash.

Russell’s teapot is the original idea that spawned things like the Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They’re simply better packaged for modern marketing than the original. However, they embody the same basic idea.

Lou simply refuses to believe that the FSM analogy has any relevance whatsoever to his belief. He’s claimed that it’s completely different because the FSM never walked the Earth and it’s a fact that Jesus did. It’s completely different because Christianity has billions of adherents and the Church of the FSM doesn’t have as many.

The most frustrating part about it is that Lou simply refuses to consider the opposing view point. He’s like an ostrich, burying his head to hide from the scary ideas bearing down on him. Poor Lou can’t see the purpose of these other “religions”. He doesn’t understand that he faces the same situation with the FSM as Carlin does with god. Lou claims the FSM doesn’t exist but can’t prove it.

I’ve been arguing with Lou about this for days. Many have wondered why I bother. The reason I bother is simple. It doesn’t even have anything to do with religion on the level it appears to.

I argue because religion inhibits one’s ability to think about things critically and critical thinking matters. That’s the only reason. The best example I can think of is astronomy. At various points throughout the history of humanity, astronomers have made claims that contradict the church’s accepted dogma. Astronomers have been tortured and killed for claiming such outrageous things as the Earth orbits the sun. Things that today people take for granted were, at one point, thoughts punishable by death.

That bears some serious consideration. What if everyone throughout history believed without doubt the things that religion said they should believe. It’s a pretty horrifying world to imagine.

So, ultimately, if people want to believe ridiculous fairy stories, I pity them. I understand it, certainly, but it’s not to be admired. That fact in isolation doesn’t bring my condemnation. What brings my condemnation is that religion promotes blind acceptance of claims without evidence. Specifically, that’s what faith means. Faith is incompatible with critical thinking.

Humanity has increasing access to powerful forces. In my view, this means we need more critical thought and less blind commitment to belief systems that promote ignorance. That’s why arguing with Lou matters. It doesn’t matter whether Lou learns anything or not. It matters that both sides of the discussion are laid out clearly so that people are exposed to critical thought. It matters that kids raised in a religious setting have easy access to informed discourse on the subject.

That doesn’t matter to Lou. It matters to me.