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Religion is Pointless

Continuing on from my blog entry from 2010-10-01, “Time to Give Up”, I need to comment on a really annoying phenomenon I hear often from believers of different world views and groups whose ideas might not be quite as well supported by the facts as mine. To translate that: I’m sick of religious idiots and politically inspired morons disagreeing with me!

That little tirade was inspired by several recent events. Actually, there were two in particular which were the worst. First, a person I was debating with using the idea that “atheism is a religion” in an attempt to discredit my arguments. And second the tedious old claim that religion is separate field of knowledge from science and that the two shouldn’t intersect.

So first, to look at the idea that atheism is a religion. The word “religion” has two main meanings: first, a system of belief based around a supernatural entity; and second, a belief system which is taken extremely seriously or given great importance. It’s fairly clear that, when discussing conventional religion (such as Christianity) that the first definition is the most logical one to use. The second one is really a more general derivation and really has little specific meaning.

Using the first definition it’s 100% obvious that atheism isn’t a religion. In fact atheism is basically the exact opposite of a religion – it’s the view that there is no good reason to believe in the supernatural. If atheism rejects the supernatural how can it be a religion which specifically requires the supernatural? It’s a very obvious and really undebatable point so why do so many believers like to make it? Maybe because they have completely run out of real objections to atheism so they have to start creating blatantly false ones.

But even if atheism was a religion why would that matter? After all, the reason the debate is occurring is because my opponents follow a religion. They must think religions are good so how does accusing your opponent of following a similar way of thinking constitute a reason to reject the idea? Again, it just doesn’t make sense.

But what about the second definition? Is atheism a strong belief system which its followers attribute supreme importance to? Maybe in some cases this is true but in most it makes no sense. Atheism isn’t a belief system at all: it’s the rejection of a belief system (the rejection of belief based on the supernatural, superstition, and blind faith). How can rejection of a belief be a religious belief? It can’t, so again the argument fails spectacularly.

Maybe what believers really mean is that atheism is based on untested and unsupported facts just as much as religion. Well first, if they mean that why not say so, instead of using a convenient (and untrue) sound bite like “atheism is a religion”. But it isn’t true anyway. Atheists overwhelmingly rely on scientific findings for their justification for disbelief and science is as dedicated to objective fact finding, repeatable experimentation, and openness in methodology as most religions are dedicated to reliance on faith and belief in unsubstantiated authority. Finally, even if science did rely on faith how is that bad, especially considering how much importance religious people attach to it? It’s like they take everything that they consider good in their own world views and somehow use it as points against their opposition.

So I hope I have disposed of the rather silly idea that atheism is a religion. What about the second source of annoyance, that religion and science don’t overlap?

This claim has been made by scientists as well as religious people for many years and it is partly true. In some formulations it’s stated something like “science tells us what and religion tells us why” or “religion fills in the blanks where science has no answers”. Both of these ideas have some merit but they don’t necessarily lead to the conclusions the believers want.

If religion explains why then what is it actually telling us? That the universe exists because god wants it to? That we should be moral because that’s what god wants? How are those explanations? They are simple-minded statements of nothing because they are really just re-stating the question and providing no new information at all. It’s like summarising all of religion with a single sentence: “god did it” or maybe “god said so”. It’s childish and pathetic and really just a simple minded cop-out from doing real research.

What about the second idea, that religion explains the areas science cannot. Unfortunately (for believers) this is an even worse option because this really just reverts back to the old “god of the gaps” idea. As science fills in more of the blanks the need for god becomes less and less. Maybe it’s true that science won’t ever know everything so there might be some small gap where religion can still have some purpose, but that’s not much to aspire to really, is it? Reducing god to some phenomenon to explain areas which science just hasn’t got around to examining yet doesn’t seem like the inspirational idea most believers would aspire to.

So in some ways science and religion do cover different areas. Science covers reality and religion covers mythology. If we need a separate system of thought to cover the more abstract areas of human endeavour then I would suggest philosophy might be better suited to the task. Religion has no purpose, it has no point, and weak arguments trying to dismiss atheism in the way I’ve mentioned above just make this fact obvious to everybody.

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