Richard Dawkins has posted some YouTube clips on his site of a talk given by a Christian activist named Greg Koukl.
Greg is attempting to arm his audience with a range of handy repudiations to spit out when faced with awkward questions from intelligent atheists, which he refers to as the “New Atheists”, e.g., non-believers who (by his questionable logic) may well think that they have thought about “it” for themselves, but are in fact merely regurgitating the misinformation given to them by the recent spate of best selling writers like Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens; and that there is some wilfully disingenuousness agenda on the part of these authors and the slant they have put on what religion is and what it is not.
Koukl starts off by explaining what critical thinking actually is – and immediately gets it deeply wrong by using flawed assumptions to segue into deeply erroneous accusations that we (atheists) are entertaining in the way we ridicule Christianity, but only because it serves as a distraction from the question of ‘spirituality’ – the assumption on Koukl’s part being that this is because new atheism can’t answer anything which, by definition, can only “belong” to those with religious faith.
This was a great reminder to me to write more on the issue of human spirituality, because I think it has been out there as an unresolved question for some time, following various atheist threads I’ve started here and continued with some of you via email; also it might be handy for those of you who tune in to and read my RSS feed, but who don’t leave comments or email me directly, to know exactly where I stand on this theological point.
I hope we can agree, firstly, that religion does have something of an exclusivity deal on the use of certain words which refer to that inner mounting flame we all have in our hearts. Spirituality is merely one of those words which is used as a tag line, in the vocabulary of the religious (in the same way we describe ourselves as ‘professional’ on a job application form) simply to add more gravitas to something which really doesn’t need any more adjectives adding to it, to be perfectly well understood in the appropriate context.
Semantic minutia aside (this isn’t a cop out, I just want to make a solid point and don’t want to lose anyone) Koukl also reminds us that even the act of opening a dialogue on matters of spirituality is seen by many Christians as an act of “searching for Jesus”, which it should be seen as the duty of a Christian to reach out to us, in the darkness and guide us toward His light.
It is, from a certain twisted point of view, very generous of Christians to think this way (if they genuinely do) but it’s also a pretty impossible thing to argue against, without sounding ungrateful. It is, however, a stark reminder of the difference between how the world appears to be, from the perspective of someone who is blissfully certain they are ‘saved’ for (non) thinking in such a way and it highlights the difficulty in explaining to these people how much greater the beauty of the universe is, when seen through the lens of open-minded curiosity; that the deep blackness ahead of us all, is itself more than half the attraction to an atheist in their abandoning of such ancient and empty simplicities as Yahweh worship.
Falling neatly into Koukl’s trap, I stop at this point and note that if the bible really was the undisputed word of God (as to be a Christian you must insist that it is) it would not need any additional interpretation. It would stand on its own. It would make mention of, you would assume, the quantum mechanical world. It would, at the very least you would hope, list the elements in the periodic table. Yet it makes no mention of anything which was undiscovered at the time it was written; there is no genuine prophecy within its pages of any sort. No mention of radio waves, microwaves, photosynthesis.. I digress.
To be clear, Mister Koukl. These are my own words, they were not put into my head by a mischievous intellectual in devils clothing – who may well have arrived at the same conclusions as I and billions of other like me have, about the truly inconceivably complex nature of nature.
These thoughts and ideas arrived in my head on their own fruition, driven by a logical analysis of the irrefutable evidence in front of my wide open eyes, which stands in sharp contrast to the glaring lack of evidence for the claims of religion; that no-one reading this, ignoring this, agreeing with this or hating me for thinking like this can claim to be anything other than bronze age myths, given exaggerated credence by the mere passage of time. End of story.
If the religious want their definition of God to be more than that; if they want their special books to mean more than they actually do, it is not only futile for me to even attempt to stop them from think that way, I wouldn’t even want to do, even if I could.
It is not as great a concern to me to convert anyone into being an a-theist, as it clearly is for the religious to do the opposite and convince everyone they meet, as solidly and blindly as they have convinced themselves, that there is something super-relevant to our modern lives within the abstract thoughts and murderous actions of pre-industrialised middle-eastern tribesmen, with a political agenda as unchanged today as it was when the first drafts of the books they murdered their way through the known world to proliferate, where first scratched out.
And yet I am full of spirituality. I call “it” that not to draw religious fire, but because it is my word for “it”. Some call “it” ‘QI’, others ‘Karma’. For me, it’s not a bright light at the end of a tunnel, or any other kind of stimulation of the neurotransmitters over-producing dopamine in my brain. It’s not the words in a book or the sacrament of group solidarity in a dimly lit chapel or the rock concert style energy in a brightly modern super-tabernacle.
The human spirit inside of me, no matter what religion claims to hold over me and my brothers and sisters in truth, is the sheer laugh out loud joy of being able see all monotheistic faiths for the insignificant folly that they really are – against the awesome backdrop of the ever unfolding universe before our very eyes, which ‘requires’ not one single superstitious assumption about how it all works, how it came to exist and how it will probably come to an end, to nevertheless remain TRUE!
We really DO live on the crusty dried out husk on top of a giant ball of molten rock, floating around a thermonuclear reactor which is billions and billions of years old. We really ARE descended from every other living creature on the entire planet, which as far as we know is the only one of its kind anywhere in the entire universe, which itself may be within and without other dimensions of a wobbling grid of space, which is so elastic it gives us something we call time.
This is the awesome childlike wonder Mr Koukl claims to have found elsewhere; in the page of a badly translated Hebrew book of guess work, but which billions upon billions of his fellow species have already found in something far more beautiful than the wilful act of non-thinking; religious blind faith. All we are waiting for, to travel together, deeper into that incredible future, is for the Greg Koukl’s of this world to worry less and stop acting so frightened and intellectually embarrassed at having been proven time and again, completely wrong.