Disbelief in God, Belief in Santa

I’m probably about to commit the blogosphere equivalent of suicide by passing a slightly negative comment on one of Chairman Gruber’s recent posts.

In a slight variation on the cringeworthy “some of my friends are black” defence, I would just like to point out that some of my best friends are in fact atheists and agnostics, and I don’t take issue with Gruber’s apparent atheism. It’s just the quote he pulls out is of dubious quality. Science is actually held together by a bunch of theories. Many sciences have come and gone. So the course of science could have been dramatically different, what is important is not what science produces in the way of laws and theories, but the scientific process itself.

He (Jillette) should have said maths of course, but he’s also made the error of imagining that the social concepts that run through many of the world’s great religions can’t be separated from the times they were established in. You’d also have to suppose there was no God to come up with the logic that Penn Jillette, the quoted author does in the citation provided by Gruber for that conclusion to work. With a God in place, the idea that Messengers can come throughout history to call to His Unity, establishing laws suitable for the development of humanity for the time makes perfect sense. The idea also that the human race could reach a point beyond which we’d learned enough from His Messengers and we didn’t in fact need any more guidance, with the God of Islam urging us again and again to ponder, to reflect, to use our reason, is also not so radical or stupid, and Islam does in fact teach this.

Then you could also make the same point about art. Or literature. Or music. I’d argue that the popular music of today is as valueless and ugly as the militant atheism of Dawkins, but I can’t imagine that Jillette would argue that art or literature or music of the past was nonsense.

The reason Jillette has to imagine a reconstruction of religion in different forms each time is because he is presupposing that God didn’t send revelation to His Messengers. If you believe that order came from chaos, then of course a different re-run would produce different results.

A common failing of Western ideologues is that they completely ignore Islam and the reason for that is quite simple: They believe in their culture’s stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. I have been reading Anne Lamott’s brilliant “Bird by Bird” as recommended by Tim Ferriss. It’s taken me a while and I decided to go for the home stretch today. Written in 1994, thus predating 9/11 by quite a few years, it has until today for me been a book I’d recommend to anyone. Now I’m planning on using it for toilet paper because having taken my sweet time to read it, I came to the chapter headed “giving” today and found this distasteful tract. (The emphasis is mine.)

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers ,will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, wilful, terrible, crazed and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel.

On reading this, the intimacy that Lamott had developed with me during the course of her book drained out of me instantly. Like a wife who finds out that the man she has loved for several decades is in fact, a serial killer. It’s like finding out that Tony Benn has a Nazi memorabilia museum and that he salutes the German national anthem with tears of nostalgia welling up in his misty eyes. This kind of rubbish is used to bolster the views that start with mosque burnings and Breivik, but ultimately lead to wars of aggression and genocide.

So an important point gets missed. The Qur’an has not in fact changed one iota in 1400 years, unlike ever other religious text. We didn’t humanly have the technology to do that before. Science was developed hugely by Muslims (and Christians) who saw no conflict between their faith and reason and still don’t. It’s only a fashion to be militantly atheist and it’s shockingly easy to be an ignorant atheist too, simply because it’s so fashionable. I wonder if Jillette realises just how extraordinarily unprecedented this act of preservation is?

Some people accuse Gruber of being a fanboy. I think such people are irredeemably stupid. If he’s a fanboy (of Apple), then I’m screwed. If we’re fanboys, it’s of stuff that works really well and is designed for our needs. If something better comes along, we’ll take it. Our position is based on our reason, not on somebody else’s.

I do see a lot of atheism fanboyism going on though, a position taken without too much thought. I’m not going to accuse Gruber of that, because he rarely talks about the personal, but I do hope that he and others who have hung their hats on the Hitchens hook will at least have a look at Islam one day, having removed as far as possible, any of the prejudices they might unconsciously harbour against it.

 

2 thoughts on “Disbelief in God, Belief in Santa”

  1. While I’m delighted with the large number of open atheists, and the fashion for reason, I am less delighted at the new habit of using reason to attack theism. The statement that Shahid has pointed out is a typical result.

    Penn’s paragraph elides an important aspect of science – two pieces of good science should produce more good science. It is additive. Indeed science moves at the speed of communication. And conversely, isolated individuals or cultures barely produce any worthwhile science.

    So if all science is wiped out, it will only return if cultures with trade and freedom of expression prosper. The scientific method can be followed by anyone at any time, but it requires building blocks of previous knowledge. So unlike a “revealed” religion, it may not simply re-appear. It is not a self replicating virus. And I can’t think of many historical cultures with trade and freedom that didn’t also have active theism.

    Apples were falling on peoples heads for millennia before a theory of gravity was devised. You can stare at the “truth”; that does not imply that you will see it. Whatever additional constructions you choose to believe.

  2. I just finished reading it and wanted to see if someone, who also shared my belief, felt that way, and there you are 🙂 and I agree, it was awfully disappointing to know that she is suffering from western stereotype too. It probably wasn’t meant to hurt feelings, but, as you said, the overwhelming intimacy drains out. And although my feelings are not too strong for the toilet-paper reaction ( Since it is downright dumb of Anne Lamott to make such a remark about Quran while Old Testaments is painted red with genocides of ‘infidels’ ), It makes it hard to appreciate her from there.

    Thanks for speaking up.

    -Salman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *