Once again we dive into the HuffPo tripe with Paul Wallace’s “The Real Problem With Atheism.” This time, however, I am not going to conduct a proper dissection; going through line by line. There really is no need. I’m going to summarize the author’s points below and encourage you to read the original if you care enough to bother. It’s HuffPo Religion section nonsense. So, you know…whatever.
- Paul Wallace is scared of New Atheism.
- Atheism is too optimistic.
- Atheism is optimistic because science is optimistic.
- Science can’t answer all of life’s questions.
- This scientific, and therefore atheistic, optimism is blind to suffering.
- Life is suffering and science (therefore atheism) cannot answer suffering.
- Therefore Jesus.
What Wallace fails to understand is this atheistic optimism doesn’t come from science, but from the realization and acceptance that life is not a cosmic “North Korea”; to steal an analogy from Christopher Hitchens. We are not locked into pre-destiny either karmically or via an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity. Conversely, we also not locked into a cosmic game of “What’s Behind the Door?” where we have free will, a plethora of conflicting rules, and serious consequences for missteps. This atheistic optimism is borne from the divorce from our lives the concept of eternal punishment and reward. We are free to live our lives not at the whim of a capricious tyrant, but according to ourselves. I do not expect the religious to take comfort in that or find it acceptable. They cannot as it is antithetical to their “reality.” To live according to your own conscience is seen as arrogant, sinful, and selfish. This lie is a great mechanism to control people.
We are all free to accept and help people out of human compassion and understanding. Not due to a risk-benefit cost analysis. For Wallace to state that atheists are unconcerned with the suffering of others is to not understand atheists as people. We must be just another group that conflicts with his worldview. Yes, “atheism” is unconcerned with suffering of people. It is unconcerned with everything aside from the question of whether or not a theistic entity exists. Atheists as people, however, have more concerns than just that single issue and many are concerned with and work to ease the suffering of others. Again, Wallace either doesn’t care to know this or ignores it. It is a profoundly myopic view.
I can’t speak for every atheist, but I too am cautious about “scientism.” For me, science is not a philosophy to live one’s life by. It is a useful tool to answer questions of reality and yes it can answer a lot about the human condition. Without a proper understanding of the aspects of our lives that we can quantify, we cannot begin to answer the questions that aren’t easily quantifiable. Philosophy also has its place to ask the questions that are important to humanity. It is also useful to ask questions in a manner that science can begin to tackle. This is not a slippery slope back into metaphysics or theology.
Wallace likes to make a big deal that he is both a Christian and physicist. I completely understand how a religious person can employ the scientific method while not being skeptical about religious claims. It’s called doublethink. What bothers me is that Wallace and others who claim to accept and practice science; fail to understand its purpose and application or they purposely misconstrue it for their own agenda. “Science” is not optimistic. That is like saying a hammer is optimistic. Science is a tool to answer questions and by attempting to elevate science to a philosophy they seek to minimize its relevance somehow. This is along the same lines of the canard that science or atheism is a religion and therefore potentially false; which I never understood as it leaves the door wide open door to ask if their religion is false (of course it’s not). Sidenote: IF (if if if) we were to conduct the thought experiment using science as a religion would it not have more evidence, predictive power, and internal consistency then any religion? Just a thought…I digress…
The purpose of Wallace’s article and the argument contained within seem not so much to call out atheists for their incorrect stance and arguments regarding theism. It is also not an attempt to return “sheep to the flock.” I think Wallace is trying to convince himself and others like him that atheism is wrong.
Wallace writes about his fascination with atheism:
For years I read their books, lurked furtively about their blogs, and came to know a number of atheists personally. My fascination has been persistent and powerful enough to baffle me: Why should I care so much?
A scary question. As a professor of physics and former working scientist, I have told myself that I care because the New Atheists claim that science — of all things — disproves God’s existence. During my years as a seminary student I told myself that I care out of theological interest. But what really scared me was the possibility that my fascination was an index of my own unconscious unbelief. I gradually began to ask myself: Am I a closet atheist?
Of course Wallace’s answer is “no”, but his logic is based on a bad premise. Atheism isn’t optimistic because science is optimistic. It is optimistic because god probably does not exist and religions are false. This is good news indeed!