This was originally posted on Facebook, but I got so many messages immediately after I decided to share it here also. It’s something that comes up often enough as an atheist questioned about my morality that I figure it might come in handy for anyone else trying to explain that it’s quite possible to be ethical without involving god. It even has a helpful diagram!
Ok. So earlier today on Facebook I posted the quote “Here’s the problem with technology: it allows people who don’t believe in science to use it.”
This is funny. Let me explain why: The application of science allows us to create many useful tools. Often we use these tools without understanding why or how they work, and this has allowed many people who actively campaign against science education (because they don’t believe it explains the workings of the world as well as say, the bible or the magical talking crystals they worship or whatever) to do things like drive their cars to anti-science conventions and listen to Glenn Beck on the radio, radios and cars both being inventions that would not be possible without using scientific methods to learn about the world and then apply that information to engineer things like engines and radios.
Actually wait, that’s kind of tragic and pathetic. But I digress.
At some point, someone will feel the need to attack what I’ve posted because they don’t get it. I usually try to explain, but I keep making the same mistake over and over and falling into an unwinnable battle that leaves me grumpy and wondering why I can’t just shake people until they agree to start making sense. The mistake I make, is often that I assume we are all on the same page with what science is or isn’t, and what it’s for, and that we also all understand what religion is and isn’t and what it’s for. One of my friends mentioned this at some point and I realized where things were going off track. I made a picture to help clarify things.
Ok, so here we are. The thing is, science is NOT a substitute for religion. The reason is that the scientific method (and its practical applications) does not have anything to say about how one should use information or technology gained from its use. It is not a code for living, or moral behavior. It’s neutral. An individual who chooses to accept a fact based reality still must come up with their own code for ethical behavior. If one desires to be kind and do the right thing, and also has an understanding of the consequences of their actions, they will probably do a decent job of it. Some people who embrace reality still end up being asshats, but it’s an unrelated personal failing.
Religion on the other hand, not only offers it’s own, usually completely nonsensical explanation for how the mechanics of the universe operate (which for some reason people often cling to despite mountains of evidence contradicting it), it attempts to offer rules for behavior as well based on nothing more than “God(s) said so”. Some of these behaviors, are nice, some are terrible, but the problem with even the “nice” rules is that they are dogma, not based on people considering why they should or should not do something and what kind of person it makes them. Christianity is far from the only offender in this area, but if you challenge someone who is homophobic and the reason they give you is “The bible says being gay is wrong”, that’s it. You can’t argue with them, because their justifications aren’t based in reality or logic. As they say “You can’t argue someone out of a position they didn’t argue themselves into”. Non religious people can also hold these misconceptions of course, and a dogmatic atheist is just as wrong, but religion openly embraces the idea that it’s ok to follow rules for no reason other than it says so in your list of rules that god wants you to follow even if it’s hurting people.
I’ve been hurt by this thinking personally many times, and so have countless other friends and strangers around the world. I care about this argument because I care about people, not just because I’m a snarky know it all who needs to be right. Actually, I don’t know a lot when it comes to specifics. I don’t have a degree in any of the sciences, or a ready list of facts for everything. What I DO have is a mind capable of reason. You do too, and for the benefit of humanity, I want you to use it for good as much as possible.
So on one hand we have a system that lets us learn about the world but leaves it to us to decide how to act based on a personal moral code. On the other hand we have a system that encourages people to base their live choices on made up stories with no evidence to support them and often directs people (or lets people use it as an excuse for harmful behavior) to do really awful things in its name.
Why would you ever argue faith over knowledge?