In the midst of all these debates about god, Jesus, ghosts, psychic powers and other things that sound like something from a bad Superman comic, we tend to forget an important point: why we do it. Specifically, this is a question addressed to those who do not believe in god or ghosts (or think that the former is actually a form of the latter). It is launched upon us in exasperation, as those who defend the unfounded claims for bad metaphysics and psychics are grounded down by our inquiry. We know that are our arguments in the “god debate” are better, we understand that naturalism is more helpful to explain the world, that appeals to magic and the supernatural are unhelpful or pointless or harmful. The question then, aside from these points, is why we do it. Why do we fight against a god we don’t believe in, against powers we don’t think exist, against forms of existence we think go against rationality?
I think this question, like most of those offered as a point by the apologists, is not helpful. The question is not why we fight invisible monsters but why others do not. Why are many non-believers in gods and ghosts not in the arena contending these ideas? It is an epistemic and human duty to do what one can for others. The irony is that we are the ones who do not believe in post-mortem reward in a magical cities, with benevolent beings rewarding us for squinting harder than our fellows, for pressing our hands closer together leaving no gap between the skin. We are the ones who are not depending on these supernatural rewards but we try nonetheless to do our best for our species.
But many who should be in our ranks are simply not. The question then needs rephrasing: “why are you not fighting?” Many will argue that they are simply not “intelligent” or “interested”. If that is the case, then it is a dual failure―since this is not just a sexy intellectual thing to do, but one that brings with it many fruits for the mind. One grows with the knowledge that pounds the frontiers of the discussion, emerging wounded but nonetheless intact and the more able for it. To adjust a famous phrase by Plato, it is nothing short than an important way to live the good life; that is fulfilling one’s mind via the acquisition of knowledge by the pure thirst for more.
Those who do not engage in these debates might say that life is more important than fighting battles that are already won.
But they are not. A casual glance across many countries, like the US, Turkey, Britain and South Africa, will show that many people―the majority in schools or universities perhaps―believe Earth to be less than 6,000 years old. Of course intellectually, the merit lies with the science that states the age of the earth to be 4.5 billion years: but unless that science is sold, delivered and packaged in a strategic way, its mettle fought by pounding it from different corners (those for, those against), we will continue to have confused and ignorant people on this subject. It needs constant supervision. Our biggest dangers to the collapse of reason lies in two corners: those who are against reason and those who embrace it but do not defend it. This does not mean that if one is rational, one is therefore a committed “atheist” or “sceptic”. One can be a person of reason defending his position on god, but one does this from a reasonable, rational standpoint, not assertion of dogma. Reason is based on bridging the gap between minds to initiate a discussion, to investigate on which side the truth or better argument lies – this is why appeals to dogma and assertion do not work, since one can not falsify them.
One can investigate and defend claims of psychics by investigating it in a scientifically verifiable way. Mere assertion, basing one’s claims on dogma and propping up faith as a virtue are not aspects of reasonable discourse. If we are to progress we need more reasonable discourse and this means anyone, regardless of whether one believes in psychics or gods, can partake of this. Even proponents of Intelligent Design are engaged in this, by (at least attempting) to use science to back-up their claims (the fact is, it’s not purely science but some science and mostly bad metaphysical conclusions, i.e.: a designer).
Thus, my appeal is to anyone; not merely those who believe similarly to myself. There is a great need to increase the volume of attention on the claims of the religious. The fact is, the religious have their established churches and their traditions; they are forced to confront their beliefs all the time, but mostly not in a critical way. Dispassionate non-believers do not have a platform to engage their beliefs―if they did, they would already be one of us.
The religious’ arguments and political influence find sway which affect all our lives: education, curtailing free-speech, safety for one’s life and so on. They have their churches, their inheritance via tradition and magical fallacies. We (mostly) do not: we have no Sunday services, no international TV channels, no world-wide appeal or bookstores that are found in most countries specifically aimed at combating bad metaphysics. Most people, including back-seat sceptics, are simply not self-reflective enough: either relying on what their imam, priest or religious leader says or, if not religious, simply dismissing it as something unimportant. But at least those who do accept the religious leader’s statement have something to say for their views of the world: they can suddenly find themselves picketing at abortion clinics, writing letters against articles that mock their faith and so on. The back-seat sceptic, however, is gazing out the window whilst all the scenery shuffles by. But we are in a losing corner if we do not get those who support us dispassionately to take a stand. Perhaps we also need Sunday services, TV channels and so on―which do actually exist but they are not nearly as ubiquitous as the religious―but it seems that the arguments themselves should be enough.
But they are not. Humans need socialising, engagement, something to stand behind. This means a rethinking of our strategy. We are already getting many―religious and not―into reasonable discussion but there are those who need an extra push. Perhaps now is the time to consider what that will be, how to do it and who should take the first steps.