Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(534)

Jan 30, 2013

Well what a revelation! Not so much on conversion to atheism, as being an atheist already I had privately developed many of the thoughts presented in The God Delusion. But to hear such ideas trumpeted from the platform of the mass media so succinctly and eloquently. Incredibly liberating is all I can where is that closet door!

I have up until recently tried to respect the (moderate) religious beliefs of others, but have grown increasingly concerned about where blind faith was leading society as a whole. Seeing creationism/ID creep into classrooms. Meeting intelligent people and finding them confused and bamboozled by some fundamentalist tradition or other. Seeing the hateful things done in the name of this god or that god. Watching the rise of pseudoscience and superstition. Observing religious organizations work their way into the political systems of secular societies. The real eye-opener for me was moving from a relatively secular country to the USA and witnessing first hand the pervasiveness of religion (both moderate and fundamental) throughout the social, political and cultural system here.

I used to rationalize that religion in the past had played a useful role, at least for some tribes, in developing behaviors and attitudes that helped them flourish. But that in more recent times religion has outgrown our social and intellectual progress and is holding us back as a species. The “natural evolution” of religion through animism, polytheism, deism and (penultimately) monotheism, along with the shrinking of the world via increased population and improved communication/transport, brings us to a point where fundamentalism again is on the rise. It is time to release ourselves from the shackles of blind faith and embrace the best tool we have for understanding us, our fellow organisms, the planet and the, born of rational thought and critical thinking.

The best science has a mechanism similar to natural selection. It postulates numerous approaches to a problem and then allows the strongest to survive. It is a self-correcting and ever open to challenge. Sometimes a scientific idea flourishes for a time, and then more or better data along with a new theory brings it tumbling down along with some of the other structures built upon it. So be it! One of the things I learnt as a scientist was that a negative experiment can teach you as much as a positive one.

The sequence in the “Root of All Evil” that Richard Dawkins relates regarding the Professor who realized he had been wrong for 15 years as shown by an American colleague and then graciously accepting it, shows the true humility of science. Oh were a pope, arch-bishop or ayatollah be so humble when faced with the facts (or best data available at any rate!).

Anyway, the real emotional clincher for me in the book was the section that touched on mortality. I well remember the day I really accepted the fact that I was an atheist. I was 24 and one of the rational conclusions as part of being a-theistic struck me as being the finite nature of my own life. My own existence! I had discarded the blanket of (possible) immortality, no matter how nebulous it had been. For a while I was saddened, even frightened, and was tempted to crawl back under the familiar blanket. Then it struck me with a conviction that still burns today. If my life was finite, I would live it to the full. I would make the most of my brief spark of existence and be thankful that I have the opportunity to live at all. What a motivation that has been for me! And what a rich life too!From having had the opportunity to live in many places, visit countries all over this planet we live on, pass on my genes to an offspring or two, sharing experiences with others and to stare up into space through my small telescope and marvel at our place in this wonderful universe.

So thank you Richard Dawkins for putting yourself out there in your uncompromising fashion. Science, sometimes a little meek and mild, needs more heroes like you and you provide an inspiration for my own personal “crusade” to raise the conscious of those who I chance to meet.

Bravo sir!

Henk Plaggemars

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