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evidenceto suggestsueh a being edsts;

Reassuringly
Rational I don't go to alternative therapists
becausethere is no evidenceto suggest
that they do any good.What matters to
An AtheistResponse
to Fear me is not what I'd like to be true but,
quite simply what zlstrue. It seemssuch
an unassailablepositionto take,doesn't
it? Yet,like a scenein a horror movie,we
Paula Kirby launch these rational arguments at the
advancingphalanx of believersand then
watch in appalled disbelief as our argp-
ike a particularly persistentblue- ments bounce straight off again with all
T they claimedthat Dawkinswas "shooting
the impact of a paper plane against a
| ,bottle fly, one question has been fish in a barrel" and that he had treated
charging rhino.
IJbuzzinground my head these last only the most extreme and ridiculous
few weeks: why do atheists and theists Has the time come for us to review
examples. Having thus established to
seem incapable of communicatingwith our tactics? So far we have been con-
their own satisfaction that Dawkins's
one another? centrating on the issue-truth-that
criticism was over the top, the com-
seemsmost convincingto rm. But we're
Time and again, we rationalists be- plainants then "came out" as fans of
lieve that our position has been ex- not the ones who need to be convinced.
alternative medicine (in principle at
pressedclearly and cannot possiblybe What to us seemslike the only question
least),and, beforewe knew it, we had a
misunderstood,yet, time and again,we in town is apparentlypretty seeondary
full-scale outbreak of "Science is scary,
find that it has been-and that it has to many others. Whether or not alter-
don't touch it with a bargepole."What's
arouseda degreeof hostility that takes native therapies actually work, many
really bizarre, though, is that, having
people find them more appealingthan
us by surprise and makes some of us thus demonstratedthat they were pre-
despair of ever getting our message scientific therapies. Whetlm or not
r:'isely the sort of people that the pro-
across. Richard Dawkins's book The there really is a god, many peopledon't
gram was trying to enlighten,they chose
Gtxl Delusiol, for instance,is written want to copewith their liveswithout the
to believethat it was really just aimed at
with a courteous yet unmistakable hopethat there is one.
complete and utter nutcases and not
More and more, I'm be$nning to
clarity and is a beaconof both reason peoplelike them at all.
think that, for many people,the ques-
and reasonableness. How could anyone Is this not preciselythe same kind of
misinterpret it? How could anyonemis- tion of God is one of hope rather than
reactionthat we seeon the part of the reli
belief. Without that hope, they would
take it for a hysterical and bigoted $ous? "Oh,RichardDawkinsjust seesthe
rant? It seemsimpossible.And yet, as find life an intolerableburden.There's
fanatics-but I'm not one of them, so his
we all knoq it rismisinterpreted-gross- no evidence to support that hope? So
commentsdon't apply to me." "Yes,well,
what?That's not the issue.They believe
ly so. we all wish the fundieswould crawl away
in God for the same reason they buy a
Until recently, I've tended to inter- and keep quiet-you don't need to be an
pret this as c1'nicalbehavior on the part lottery ticket. Do they really, deepdown,
atheist for that." And, just as with the
of believers,a way for them to reject the believe they're going to win the jackpot
alternativetherapyfans,the next stageis
book without having to engagewith its this weekend?No, of coursethey don't.
that, having convinced themselvesthat
Nevertheless, just knowing that they
arguments.But now I'm be$nning to the issuesraiseddon't apply to them,they
wonder.Is it possible that this response nLight is often enough to keep them
moveon to "But my rc\$on is a force for
going through a week that may other-
has its roots not in cynicism but in fear? good" and away they go.
wise be very grim. Are they remotely put
This idea struck me forcibly the In both cases, I am struck by how
off by statisticians pointing out that
other week, when Dawkins's new televi- utterly indifferent these people are to
their chances of winning are so infini-
sion series, The Enemies of Reason, the fact that their beliefs have been
was broadcast in the United Kingdom.I tesimal as to be virtually zero? No, of
shown-clearly, unmistakably, courte-
was quite taken aback at the hostility of course not. That lottery ticket in their
ously-to be unsubstantiated by any-
pocket gives them a glimmer of hope,
many of the reactions it engendered, thing resemblingproper evidence.
something to daydream about, some-
evenfrom peopleI would have expected Most of us, I would suggest,are athe-
thingthat offersjust the slightestchance
to belong to our natural constituency ists becausewe can find no evidenceto
of escape from whatever it is in their
Their eommentsfolloweda pattern: first, support belief in a god or gods. Most of
lives that grinds them down.
Paula Kirby liues and wmks in the us, I would further suggest,would revise
We see the same process at work in
Highlands of Scotland. the i,s an our position if such evidence were to
religion. Observingtheendlessstream of
entfuisi,astic athnist whn i,s particu- becomeavailable.To us, what matters is
attacks on Th.eGod Delus,ion,it is clear
krly interested in hout forrner Christ- the truth or otherwise of any given
that the responseisn't a calm exposition
ians deal with the transition to rwn- claim, and so, naturally enough, we
of why the claims of religion might be
belief. She i,s currentlg researching a couch our arguments in those terms. I
true.lnstead, it boils down to how much
book on this subject. don't believe in Godbecausethere is no
harder life would be without belief to

@ http://w w w .secul arhumani sm.org
M
cling to. Th,etruth (or otherwise) of the seemssuch a natural part of life. Equally, coolly,why shouldwe care about theirs?
religious belief is almost i,rrelettan.t. I don't feel remotely put out that my life How can someonewho can handle thc
To us that seemsincomprehensible, pre- doesn't have any cosmic purpose. Its reality of mortality be in possessionof
posterous,almostobscene.But just look purpose is what I make of it-I don't the full range of human emotions,like
at the shrillnessof believers'responses. need ancient texts or frisky vicars to Iove and joy, compassionand fear?
It remindsme of nothingmore than the make senseof it for me. Bezl-those of We know we can, and we know their
piercingshrieks of a small child sent to us who feel able to look life in the eye fears are unfounded,even bizarre. But
bed without her favorite teddy bear. It's and say "Bring it on" shouldnot under- just look at the responseselicited by
more than protest:it's sheerterror. estimatehow dauntingthat prospectmay The Gril Delu,srlortand seewhether you
I know plenty of Christians who are feel to others. can't detectin them somethingof what I
neither stupid nor fundamentalist.When Many peoplecling to their beliefsfor suggest.
askedwhy they believe,their repliestend the samereasonthat many peoplestay If I am right, this prescntsus with a
to fall into three categories: in abusive relationships:becausethey challenge: if people reject atheism bc-
. "How could there be any meaningto are scared of having to face life on their cause they feel unable to deal with its
life if there wasn't a god?" own. The fear of life without ultimate implications,rather than becausethey'rc
. "l can't get my head round the idea of meaning,of life that's endedby death, not convincedby its arguments,where do
every4hing just stoppingwhenI die-all or of life that has no guaranteed happy we go from here?There can be no retreat
that experience, all that knowledge: it ending, is so great and so deeply rooted from reason. science.and evidence,but
can't all just disappear,it can't all be for in many people that when we Point until we can also convincethe religious
nothing." out-truthfully-that life las no ulti- that a life without faith is worth IMng
. "My faith gives me so much stren$h, I mate meaning and rloes end with death and,just as important,that it is possible
don'tknowhow peoplemanagewithout it." and that there is no force greater than to live it without being either sub- or
To thoseof us who pride ourselveson ourselves in control of our destiny- superhuman,I suspectour reason-based
facing up to the truth and just getting on they regard us as some kind of aberra- arguments will continuc to fall on deaf
with life, this seemsextraordinary.I can tion, less than fully human. Of.cottse ears. If we want to be heard,being ratio
honestly say I don't have a great horror atheists seem scary to them: if we can nal may not be enough:we may need to
of death-in its nonviolent forms it face the prospectof our own demiseso be reassuring166.ITil

PotNToF II\aUIRY wrrH D.J.GnorHr
Where can you hear the leading voices of skepticism and scienceon a weekly basis?On POINT OF INQUIRY, the
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