Whose the smartest atheist of all?

Posted on June 9, 2011


Fig 1 Hitchens

Jenny: “If I’m going to learn about atheism who should I read?”

Peter: ” Why waste your time, they’re just as biased as the religious extremists.”

Professor Wiggle: ” Dawkins and Dennett are both smart, but Chris Hithens is smarter. He remembers what other big brains forget. He remembers that arguments  in both religion and science  arise from faith-based reasoning. In a sense all reasoning is faith-based reasoning.  But Hitchens claims that faith-based reasoning ‘is the beginning – but not the end – concerning all arguments’ about science, religion and human nature. ”

Jenny: “What’s he mean when he says faith-based reasoning  occurs at the beginning – but not the end – of all arguments?”

Professor Wiggle: ” He seems to  believe – naively  as we’ll see – that while religion starts and continues to rely on faith-based reasoning, whereas scientists rely on faith-based – or theory based – reasoning to get the show on the road,  but then they prove the validity of  their faith-based theories by gathering empirical evidence. But turns out that smart as he is, Hitchens is a bit naive about how science works. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that try as they might scientists never accumulate enough trusted evidence to answer their big questions with certainty … not only does science start with faith-based reasoning, it continues with it as well.”

Peter: ” That’s where Hawking come in isn’t it. Isn’t he the super-scientist who admits that we can’t get direct access to reality… the best we can do is build models supported by limited and selective evidence? Hichens needs to come up to speed on  tbe messy meaning of  ‘proof’ in science and  admit  the real threat that science poses to human survival. He’s got such a blinding hate for religion he can’t see the limits of science and rationality – maybe Japan’s latest meltdown gave him a hint of how nuclear fallout ‘poisons everything. He ‘s now experiencing a personal example of scientific fallibility – look how long it took science to  link smoking to cancer and it’s massive  killing fields. Hitchens has a big blind spot; RELIGION POISONS EVERTHING. WHILE RATIONALITY AND SCIENCE are our salvation.  Come  on Hitch, the end of civilization as we know it will be delievered by tbe byproducts of sience, whether by Chinese atheists or Muslims extremists, or by your rational United States.”

Professor Wiggle: ”  Yes Hawking goes beyond Hithens. Hawking says the best we can do is construct models of reality. He calls it a model dependant realism . ‘It is pointless to ask whether a model [or theory] is real, only whether it agrees with observations.” Furthermore those observations don’t provide a direct picture of reality. Our  scientific views of the world – of reality – are filtered through the observer. “Our perception – and hence  the observations on which our theories are based – is not direct, but is rather shaped by the kind of lens, and the interpretive structure of our human brains’ – such as biases, bliefs or theories.”

Fig 2 Hawking

Peter: So according to Big Brain Hawking all of us – religious believers, scientists, republicans and democrats – rely on faith-based reasoning all the time, on models of reality that we construct with our fallible senses and ‘the interpretive structures of our brains’ – our beliefs, biases, models and theories. So Hitch should admit that all reasoning is faith-based reasoning at the beginning and continues supported by cherry picked evidence strained through our senses, beliefs and biases, including mathematical biases. Even Dawkins reluctantly acknowledges the fallibility of science. He doesn’t say “There is no God”, he says “There probably is no God”  because the proof  supporting any theory or model remains uncertain. Common Chris – turn that big brain of yours on and acknowledge that most of what we think of as  ‘real’ in our lives is based on our beliefs and biases – those are the blindly trusted imaginary bridges (including mathematical bridges) on which we walk into the future not on empirical evidence, not on rational reasoning. Herb Simon ( no conclusions without premises) and Dan Kahneman (we base our decisions on readily accessible evidence – on cherry picking) won Nobel Prizes for pointing that out.”

Jenny: ” Htichens may understand this, but the thing about religion that really bugs him is that true believers kill people in the name of their faith – for him ‘religious poisons everything.'”

Peter: : ” Yeah, he’s peddling a simple simon model: religion bad, science and rationality good. Furthermore, he he wont admit that the by-products of science – nuclear bombs, climate warming and super bugs pose a bigger threat to human survival than any religious wars ever did. Without science we’d still be fighting with sticks and stones. And the only country that has used nuclear weapons killing  thousands of  helpless civilians was the United States – and not on a religious crusade. Come on  Hitch ….time to check your model of reality.”

Jenny: ” Yeah, I get what you’re saying but it’s hard to give up our view’s of  ‘out there reality” . I mean I hear it, I can smell it, I can feel it,  I can see it... I can take pictures of it…yeah I know you can’t trust picture anymore because people can change them and create them on their computers… they can put my head on a naked body and send it around Facebook – for me it’s not real,,, for everyone else it is. Hitchens want’s  pictures of heaven, angels and God as proof. Yet he has no proof, no empirical evidence of  the future and yet he’s believed in it for over  sixty  years. So there are many kinds of reality, yours mine, past, future …mine’s ‘real’… but yours…who knows?”

Peter: “Well I can buy what Hawking says about the uncertainty  concerning big questions about the universe, and my future including  my career, who i’ll marry, whether it will work, will I have kids, if so how will they turn out – life is uncertain and stays uncertain, I travel on faith based reasoning and continue todo so every day. Nevertheless, for me some things are really real, like my pimples, my father’s death,  and the chemistry exam I’m suppose to write tomorrow morning! It easer to get what counts as proof for some things that for others – pimples and death Ok, but others like success, wisdom, good government, the past, the future are always a mixed bag – what’s good proof  for big puzzles seems to reside in the eye of the beholder.”

Fig 3; Faith

Jenny: “OK so a scientist has faith in his or her theory and commits their career, maybe a lifetime looking for bits of ‘proof’ to support their faith-based reasoning – their theory. I do the same for the faith I have in my marriage and kids… a lifetime of faith-based reasoning… everyday I travel on faith supported by bits of ‘proof’… but the whole show could blowup this afternoon, or tomorrow of next week… my husband starts to cheat, my kid has a car accident, the nuclear power plant down the road blows up, my mother get’s an infection in hospital from a super-bug… I travel every minute of everyday on faith-based reasoning whether I even go near church. These smart Alex atheists are telling me to  analyse each decision I make every minuter – weigh the pros and cons – comb  the scientific literature for proof… yeah the conflicting and changing scientific literature, go to the hospital with my mother and make sure every nurse and doctor wash their hands before touching her, wait I have to check the kitchen staff, and the servers who bring it to her room…oh oh I just heard one of the cleaning staff sneeze….Come on you guys stop  peddling rationality and proof  to us as an alternative to faith-based reasoning. You guys spend most of your time traveling on faith-based reasoning – you get married on faith…oops… divorce… marry again on faith…oops.. divorce. Your bet – have faith on a given scientific hunch…work on it for 20 years… travel on faith…oops…keep patching it, propping it up… defending it….no Nobel Prize for you Herr Professor…just a nice retirement speech, a watch… and dreams of  ‘if only I’d bet on a different hypothesis.”

Jenny: ” After all this talk I think I believe in two kinds of reality. First there’s small space reality – the kind that punches my senses like rocks on bare toes, skunk smells, chocolate cake, dead things, and making love. Second there’s BIG space reality – like the future – the kind that Hawking talks about…what’s he call it? Oh Yeah model dependant reality dealing with fuzzy worlds – where people disagree, and future worlds, future realities.”

Fig 1 Hitchens  flickr.com/photos/alvherre/2700471208/

Fig 2: Stephen  Hawking flickr.com/photos/alvherre/2700471208/

Fig 3: Faith flickr.com/photos/merritt_turetsky/2878021149/

Posted in: Sciencing