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2013 Winter Issue 4 (February 8, 2013)

Science, Religion, and Debating the Undebatable

February 13, 2013
By Michael Goodgame

Atheism is based on an aversion to religion, a strong and often aggressive disbelief in the concept of a perfect, ubiquitous being.  Atheists say they do not need to disprove God’s existence any more than they need to disprove the Tooth Fairy’s existence, and many assert that it is childish and stupid to think anything else.  This is fine, and perhaps even true.  Arguments about God will always revert back to the fact that the topic is effectively impossible to debate because it is predicated on belief and not fact.  What atheists should look to is not the particulars of the argument on God, but rather that they are seeing it as an argument in the first place. What atheists need is not an education in religion and spirituality, but a lesson in how to view religion as a dynamic force of livelihood rather than as an outdated vehicle for violence and coercion as they so often do.

As David Foster Wallace bluntly proclaimed in 2005 as Kenyon College’s commencement speaker, “everybody worships.”  If you don’t worship a God, you worship wealth, success, intellect, or any number of other personal attributes that you may value highly.  Wallace was speaking in specific terms, on a personal level.  More broadly, atheists worship science.  Science, apparently, is superior to religion because it is based on fact and can be backed up with evidence.  Even better, science can be literally put to the test with experiments and consistent results.  Put up to these standards, religion fails miserably.  You can’t analyze God’s results, whatever results we do have definitely aren’t consistent, and atheists scoff at the idea that God be omnipresent because they’ve already proven scientifically that nothing can be.

This is a sound argument.  In this realm – the one where everything falls on a spectrum of substantiation – the atheists are right.  But they miss the point that they are operating within a scientific mindset where argument reigns king.  Religion, save for fundamentalists of every creed, need not necessarily be about arguments over right and wrong and beliefs about the superiority or inferiority of each way of thinking.  This is because religion is not so much a way of thinking as it is a way of living.

Or, it can be.  Religion, whether you believe in it or not, is useful.  I mean this not in a political or sociological sense, but in a personal sense.  It has been (scientifically!) proven that religious people are happier than non-religious people.  This need not mean that we should all subscribe to the beliefs of a religion – rather, it implies that the religious way of life is worthy of inspection and possibly even good.  The actual prescriptions within religious texts as to how one should live are, for the most part, very sound.

What matters more?  Argumentation, the ability to prove a point, or how we live?  You and I (assuming you are not a dogmatic fundamentalist) both understand that religious myths like those in the Bible are clearly untrue.  This is a scientific way to view these stories, and it bears almost no relevance.  The myths still serve a purpose.  They give us a moral code, showing us how to live.  This is incredibly valuable.  I’m positive that everyone reading this, even if my readership is composed entirely of fiendish scientific atheists, has read a book, heard a song, or had an experience that contributed to their own personal conception of who they are and how they live today.  That’s what life is, and in this way, religion trumps science.  One need not believe in God in order to gain something from going to church.

Atheism too often turns religion into something it is not, and makes a fatal error in evaluating people.  Because after all, people are not computers, driven by data and persuaded by rationality alone.  We need a way of life, and religion has the potential to give it to many of us if only we would let it.   

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