The impetus for actually writing down my ideas to a potentially broader public, however, originated from reading a quote from Phil Fernandes's book The Atheist Delusion which states:
The new atheists have made their choice—apparently, no amount of evidence for God will change their minds. They claim that the existence of God is as ridiculous as the existence of a flying spaghetti monster.I realized then that this is a great problem of our time. Ultimately, reading the line really condensed the otherwise unrelated ideas I have about atheism, my family, and the public. I claim that most atheism is fundamentally new, historically persecuted, and publicly unpopular. And besides, a few jovial jests against my perceived opposition will hopefully make the writing a bit more colorful. But it would be nice if we could all get along.
The freedom of speech, assembly and religion are, interestingly, grouped together in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Certainly I do not want to give the impression much of what I have to say pertains only to US Citizens (I am one) or residents (I am not one). But a fervor of anti-intellectualism and religious fanaticism is more strongly rooted there than any other industrialized democracy (apparently constituting a majority of voters). My experiences also greatly shape my perspective, and form the basis of many of my examples.
Atheism is not a religion and doesn't need to be. (It is, however, a belief arising from assumptions which science also uses.) But legal issues which protect religious beliefs often come to a clash with scientific beliefs, which while are allowed, are rarely protected in the same manner. (I am not stipulating that all scientists are atheists or vice versa, and discuss it later.) Scientists may believe there is good reason to excavate some area for discovery of new knowledge, where some religions may consider the same ground sacred, and in the United States, courts nearly always rule in favor of the religious beliefs, simply because there's not an obvious way to interpret existing laws to offer the same protection to a scientific belief, much less atheism. In this sense, most of my beliefs are essentially unprotected by any laws, other than that I can say them and print them and assemble to discuss them. What about using them to positive effect?
Without a formal organization, one wonders who exactly are the "new atheists" to whom which Mr. Fernandes refers. Can I be an "old atheist" who will change his mind when any falsifiable theory is presented or testable evidence begins to amount? And for the converse, how much more evidence needs to amount before someone rejects a claim which cannot be falsified? I heard a speaker in Canada, whose talk title posed, "Can a scientist believe in God?" He then went on to "prove" that all scientists must believe in god! Some discussion, huh? (He was a Masters in Engineering falsely claiming a PhD as well.) The proof simply assumed that if we accept big bang cosmology, then something must have caused the big bang from logical analysis of the timeline. However, the big bang is the proposed origin of the space-time continuum, outside time there is no sense of cause or effect, and anything outside this is in fact forbidden from any interaction with our universe after its inception. This sort of god cannot affect anything, and being outside the realm of what could ever be known, is futile to discuss, ponder, or worship. As an atheist, I think to myself, "I do not believe god exists," where existence is implicitly in this universe; maybe god exists in another universe where physics are different, like the universe of the imagination, but not with our physics. But ideas of god are rarely scientific, so it's best not to mix fuel with fire unless you want to get hurt.
Even aside from such a fantastical confusion of fundamental physics, any idea of an omnipotent god automatically violates known ideas of causality merely by exceeding the speed of light; the only way around that is, in mock physics, if god has negative mass, moves backwards in time (actually it would be imaginary proper time), and is caused by the universe (or something?), probably forthcoming in a posthumous appendix to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (You can check up on tachyons for actual ideas of this kind of theoretical particle that moves faster than light.) After all, if god can move backwards in time, why can't Mr. Adams? These problems emphasize why keeping 'creators' out of science are important. (Edit: If I start seeing theories of god utilizing tachyon physics...well, at least it would start being like real science maybe?! But it would either not be the god people want or violate causality, so pick your poison. Maybe god can be an uber high dimensional field with oscillating constants...but wait, what about free will? AaaaaaAaah!)
It's also rather important that I am not an old atheist, because in many places in the world, new atheists have much more protection from persecution, and even death, than perhaps the old ones were afforded. Scholars still debate on the religious views of René Descartes, many suggesting he was an atheist. However, it's probably no accident that no one knows, even now, considering his contemporary, Galileo, was forced to recant some of his works, formally suspected of heresy, and condemned to house arrest. At first glance, 17th century politics perhaps have little bearing in the 21st century, but in fact the Catholic Church was still working to complete its rehabilitation of Galileo as a man and also his works as recently as 2008. And as someone considered one of the essential founders of scientific thinking, probably it makes sense that the two communities are still somewhat at odds with one another. That doesn't mean Galileo was an atheist, but it's pretty clear at least one reason why he wasn't (or didn't claim to be). Since atheism is not organized, and it's historically a taboo subject to consider seriously, it's no doubt many atheists appear to be new. (I myself was taken to church as a child, and near the age of 12 or 13 decided for myself that God didn't seem to exist.)
In the 20th century, there is no doubt about persecution of atheists, even in the self-proclaimed freedom-loving land of America. My maternal grandfather was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, a socialist, and probably a closet atheist. (Sadly, as he died before I was born, I never got the chance to cough it out of him.) Whether it's the Church who will force you to recant your works, or McCarthyist neighbors who will rat you out and get you fired from your job, probably you do like the Manhattan Project:
When They Said: "Keep Your Mouth Shut"...I Did
There are some interesting relics reminding me of atheist persecution in my pocket. While appearing on coins since the mid-19th century, In God We Trust wasn't adopted as the United States official motto until 1956, when the Red Scare was in full swing. In my opinion, the entire purpose of making such a national slogan was to pose the US in opposition to the communist Soviet Union, since the very notion of atheism was incorporated with Marx's communist framework. It's no wonder my grandfather taught my mother not to tell other people her politics or religion, which she in turn attempted to pass on to me; clearly in my case, it didn't stick.
Although I find it unlikely professing atheism will limit my job opportunities in physics research, contemporary courts continue to up hold the constitutionality of the word 'God' appearing in the the Pledge of Allegiance, the national motto, and on currency. The argument that 'God' has lost its meaning, or doesn't suggest persecution, is to me just as absurd as if I asked instead for the phrase We ♥ Satan to be the national slogan. Yeah, let's put Satan's name everywhere, because clearly 'God,' and thus also 'Satan,' have lost their meanings! In fact, I have a t-shirt with nearly that exact phrase (replace 'we' with 'I') on the front, and I was banned from wearing it to my public high school some years ago. When informed the reason I was not allowed to wear the shirt was because a student was offended, I retorted by asking a rather absurd question to expose the hypocrisy, "What if a gay student was offended by some Christian shirt?" To my complete and utter amazement, the principal's rebuttal was, "If there was a gay person at this school, that would be a problem." So some people have a right to be offended, and other people have the right not to exist or to shut their mouths.
The common perception in the public is atheism is not religion, and it isn't science. It also doesn't seem clear what agnosticism is, either. So let's hash this out. The basic scientific method is the methodical testing of a falsifiable hypothesis. If the test does not disprove the hypothesis, the scientist can choose to believe the hypothesis is correct or incorrect. However, if the experimental results are inconsistent with the hypothesis, the scientist should believe that either the hypothesis is wrong, or the test results are in error. But a scientist can't do anything with an untestable theory. The problem with theories of religion and god(s) is they fall under the domain of part what Wolfgang Pauli supposedly said about an unclear physics paper:
Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!(Not only is it not right, it's not even wrong!)
Science is entirely agnostic, actually. Maybe religion is right and there is a god, but it clearly can't be proven wrong.
To the degree which atheism and agnosticism describe the same belief (it varies depending on one's definition), we can say science is also atheistic. As most vocal atheists complain that the burden of proof is on believers in god, certainly they can't be saying, "I believe god does not exist," which is equally unable to be proven. Functionally, atheists work from the notion that, "I do not believe that god exists," which is just a simpler way of pointing out, "An untestable theory does not convince me, and being unconvinced of something, I cannot truly believe it." (Of course, some atheists may actually assert as a fact that god doesn't exist, but they aren't even wrong either, and seemed to have missed the point.) There certainly is a grammatical difference between the two statements, but functionally they appear the same. The typical difference between an atheist and an agnostic is not what they believe, but just a matter of hubris. I call myself an atheist just because I'm arrogant in person. But in fact, I am an existential nihilist, in the sense that I believe nothing at all can be really known, which includes my beliefs about god, so my beliefs are quite humble. The way I see it, the human mind is probably too feeble to really grasp the cosmos, but it's fun to try anyway. So whether I'm an atheist or an agnostic, I'm still agnostic anyway.
Atheism is just horribly misunderstood, because the only people who are comfortable to talk about it are the arrogant pricks like me. People who believe in god can't even understand why we want to be alive. It basically comes from an entirely different take on life, perhaps. Theists love to quote the more practical side of Richard Dawkins, and may be unfamiliar with my favorite quotation:
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?Some of us are just more curious about "How?" rather than "Why?" And maybe we also I'd like the assurance of at least knowing when we are wrong.
Clearly with the inappropriate entrance of creationism into scientific discussion in recent years, it makes sense to change the public perception of atheism by trying to change our understanding of the term. Even though science itself is agnostic doesn't make all scientists agnostic. Surely there are religious folk who don't believe in god, right? One can find scientists, just like members of a given religion, who hold a whole myriad of personal philosophies and religious practices. And atheists and agnostics are not without ethical codes. We don't need to fear Dante's Inferno to feel something is morally wrong. And I think there is to some degree also a growing persecution of religious beliefs within science, and these two problems just feed off each other. One of my good friends is religious, but so far we have never even talked about our philosophies in this regard because he has been persecuted in the past by other scientists! How about a deal? I'll keep my relativity out of your religion if you keep your creator out of my science? Then god can be with religion, agnosticism can be with science, and we can all just chill out.
But because I cannot apply my ideas about science to religion, I am only left to believe that the existence of god is as ridiculous as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and Russell's teapot, because they aren't even wrong and they all afford me a ton of laughs.
You can disagree with me, but please don't hate me.