On the alleged symmetry between religion and atheism
One of the arguments raised in countless discussions with various believers, deals with the alleged symmetry between religious faith and “atheism”. The religious believer may claim that atheists vigorously defend their viewpoints, just like religious believers. Furthermore, he or she may give many examples in which the believer says something (e.g., “there was no big bang”) and the atheist says the opposite (e.g., “there was a big bang”).
This is of course utter nonsense. The very essence of a religion – any religion – the “blind” belief in some “high world order” – does not at all characterize the daily schedule of any atheist. A well-known joke speaks about how comparing atheism to a special kind of religion is like comparing a bald head to a special kind of hair design.
“But our belief is not blind,” some of the readers may instantly react, “our belief is based on solid evidence,” etc. Well, c’mon… if we’re talking about evidence, proofs and logical conclusions, then we’re talking about science and the scientific method. We are in a different territory – the one of research labs and academies of science, which know how to deal with evidence, experiments and proofs much better that rabbis and sheikhs. And we know what their conclusions are as far as the big bang is concerned, or evolution and the origin of man, or the role of gods in general.
And besides, ask many believers whether they are ready to “convert” if you do show them some evidence of false content in their belief… The answers you’ll typically get will vary between “no way” and “you can’t show this anyway” and “belief does not deal with evidence and proofs.”
Since religious contents do contain topics that do deal with evidence and proofs, our sages found quite a few methods to have the cake and eat it too. Some examples from Judaism stretch from the very principles of faith, such as “thou shalt have no other gods before me. period” and “this law shall not be changed. period”, through great rabbis who actually forbade learning scientific topics that might contradict written texts and provoke “heresy”, to modern scholars who explain how one can manage rational discussions only after agreeing on certain “must” religious principles, not to be diverted from.
Other than the lack of blind faith, this is where we find the real asymmetry between religion and atheism. Where the true believer avoids delving into material that contradicts his or her belief, the atheist has no problem with delving into any material. This is true not only for the main issues, but for any minor issues as well: If, for example, religion forbids abortions – the atheist does not “encourage” abortions. He or she will simply examine things on a case-by-case basis, and perhaps also according to personal ideology.
This seems to give the religious preacher an advantage when arguing with the atheist who recognizes science advantages: The latter is inherently more open to changing his or her mind. If tomorrow some hard evidence is found for the existence of a man named Methuselah, who lived for 969 years (Genesis, Chapter 5) – the atheist will have no problem believing this story to be true. Alas, scientifically speaking there is no such evidence. In fact, this is a big advantage of the scientific way of thinking, and the thing that pushes science forward.
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We should additionally mention two important points.
The first point has to do with a common method of approaching atheists – one that exploits this openness: “You say you don’t disqualify anything in advance? And you’re ready to accept anything that comes with a proof? Ok, please arrive to meeting X, or carefully examine video clip Y, and find there a clear proof for…”
The problem here is different. The amount of such requests is enormous. During a typical week, someone who is busy with these topics may receive some five invitations to meetings and religious seminars, plus some ten video clips of one hour or more, allegedly proving everything — from the age of the biblical Sarah, through miracles performed by autistic children before breakfast, to UFOs landings on top of Mount Carmel. In fact, one may spend 200% of their time just browsing through weird materials, sent by people who swear on their mothers’ graves that a specific video clip will change your mind and change your life.
Once in a while we do look at some video clip, and our life hasn’t changed so far. Most of those materials suffer from a strange mix of false facts with conclusion methodology that is far from being scientific.
The other point deals with the supposedly-symmetric argument: “There is no proof that there is no god, so until such proof exists, I will continue with my religious belief.”
Science is not conducted by things not proven. The same argument exactly is true for any of the thousands of gods mentioned in various human cultures of our little planet – some of whose existence contradicts each other. It has also not been proven that the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist. In fact, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has a somewhat larger probability of existence, as the biblical “God” story’s credibility is damaged by many activities mentioned in that story, which we have proven to occur differently.