Rationalism vs Atheism, Feminism & Other Religions

Perhaps my scientific training led to scepticism and the search for facts or maybe I was just made this way.

A colleague in my first job pointed out that maths is symbols and rules but any relationship between maths and reality is unproven, though backed by a lot of circumstantial evidence.

After an upbringing in a ‘Church of England’ style, relatively disinterested Christianity but little or no church attendance, I failed to find any evidence for the existence of a loving God. All the love and hate I witnessed was more sensibly attributed to humans and ‘acts of God’ to climate or accident.

I know that religion can make people feel more hopeful at the worst of times so I wanted to distance myself from increasingly militant atheism. I started describing my lack of religious belief as “agnostic atheism”. I’m not absolutely sure there is no God but I see no evidence that there is. My relationship to God is exactly the same as the one I have with creatures  who live underground on the Moon. I’ve heard stories but without further evidence, I’m going to assume they’re not there. The Bible is not better evidence than ‘The Clangers’, if we ignore any knowledge of who created the artifacts and what their motivation was. Describing myself by something I don’t think became increasingly ridiculous to me. When I started going to ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ events, I began to self-identify primarily as a rationalist.

Last week, I was catching up on the latest series of The Infinite Monkey Cage. Prof. Brian Cox said that in science there are no facts, only theories that haven’t been disproven yet. Religion and science have a common aim, to explain how and why things work. The difference is that once a religion has decided something, it becomes a sin to challenge it. Dogma gets treated as fact.

Science has theories and it constantly challenges them until no-one can think of any better ideas (for now) and everyone pretends they’re facts, because we like certainty but we are still kidding ourselves. I’m imagining religious fundamentalists, pointing at this, screaming “See! See! They know NOTHING!”.  The only people who can believe they KNOW facts with any degree of certainty are the religious. And they are not going to be swayed from their Knowledge by something as trivial as contradictory evidence. Their faith teaches them that believing, without a scrap of evidence, is the greatest virtue, that doubt is a sin to be prayed through. You can imagine the ambitious early churchman who made that rule up.

I know religious scientists. They separate their science from their beliefs and compartmentalise them, in different sections of their brain. Logic is not permitted in the religious baggage area. Many atheists try arguing with religious people, at a cost of great personal stress. You may as well try building a suspension bridge using magic. However, if you are arguing from a position of absolute certainty that there is no God then you are not being rational either, because science isn’t certain about anything. That is its greatest strength. ‘It’ learns continuously in a way that religious institutions are reluctant to and that is why religion is disappearing fastest amongst educated people. The places that God might be hiding are slowly disappearing. The odds suggest overwhelmingly that we should grow up, take responsibility for our own actions and fix any problems ourselves. Don’t pray, think.

And then I talk to feminists. I believe that all people should be offered the same opportunities; that as far as is possible we should strive to enable equality. But people are not equal. I have observed this, scientifically. Yet, if I had to decide who to throw out of an airship, I’m confident it would mostly be men, even without the archaic concept of male chivalry. Not all men are the same and not all women are the same. I get that too. And even when we do conform to gender stereotypes, we don’t know whether that was caused by nature or nurture so we just pick a side, based on faith. Faith must never be questioned. If someone produces evidence that conflicts with your belief, it is your duty to shout at it and attempt to undermine the messenger.

Some aspects of this ill-defined thing we call “Feminism” seems to have become a religion to some people. It’s strictest adherents are capable of holding totally conflicting beliefs in their minds without them ever meeting. And like other religions, it is impossible to question some of the more outlandish beliefs without triggering reflex protection mechanisms. “It says in the Bible…”, “Well you would say that, you reap the benefits of the patriarchy”. Or maybe I’ve thought about what you said and found it lacking and the fact I am a man is irrelevant.

“Not all feminists!”, I hear you cry. But some of them, and they are doing harm to a logical cause that I care about. Men don’t run around clubbing wild boars any more, leaving our little women safe in the cave. Our culture needs women working and men doing childcare as though they were equal. We need to grow up and discuss equal opportunities, like adults.


2 thoughts on “Rationalism vs Atheism, Feminism & Other Religions

    1. We must always expect the autodoxy to protect the current belief system but in science the truth should ultimateley prevail. Arguably, theoretical physics has been a religion for the last few decades. The Higgs-Boson was one of its rare contacts with reality. Who knew, maybe maths IS real?

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