Accommodation or confrontation?
Since arriving in Calgary, I made a simple promise to myself I would further my involvement in the local atheist community. It was therefore fortuitous that after only of few days of adjusting to my new surroundings, an opportunity to meet up with other atheists presented itself in the form of a lecture. Held at the University of Calgary last night, it was entitled “The Evolution-Creation Controversy“. Dr. David Eberth presented a stimulating discussion on the framework of Creationism, and argued the real ‘debate” is a political and cultural rather than a scientific struggle.
Dr. Eberth was coming into his approach from an admittedly accommodationist angle. You’re all probably terribly familiar with my thoughts on the matter by now, and can venture to guess I had a few things to say about it. Specifically I focused on one of his metaphors: that of a pendulum illustrating the tendencies for movements to shift from side to side. My argument was perhaps it would be in our favor to put as much emphasis on “our end of the spectrum” rather than concentrate on those who’s opinions were unformulated (the overly solicited “middle ground”).
While I admit it may seem strange one becomes more popular the more you alienate others (to a certain degree, of course), this paradox is undeniably true. Perhaps it’s because the unconvinced masses are impossible to sway, and so they require a “flash-point” in order to be compelled to choose (the safest thing, after all, is not to do anything). The “proles”, Winston observed in George Orwell’s dystopic masterpiece, were simply incapable of grasping the idea they were being oppressed. The experience was so pervasive, it was essentially invisible to them.
Delusion functions similarly. And while Eberth expressed no real interest in what people believed – since in his view it didn’t influence the process of science – it nevertheless interferes with the perception of science. This may be cultural, but it is the systematic irrationality on the part of everyone involved (at all levels) that creates fertile grounds for the controversy. Like any other poisonous concept such as racism, bigotry and sexism, there are no institutions that vanguard these antiquated and dangerous ideas; they are merely the subtle manifestation of a broader set of shared beliefs.
In other words, what you believe really does matter. The importance of belief leaves me unmoved by the limited reproach we give to bad ideas. Even worse, if we try to seduce people to see reality, the truth is we do provide a far less tempting offer. Religion entices followers with a host of promises we couldn’t begin to match. Instead we offer the bitter reality, like all offers which are too good to be true, it really was that and more. What our species accepted in the bargain of religion was the formation of an idea whose very existence created culturally dominant forces which withheld at bay our growing curiosity. Only in the light of reason, a glacially slow process many have perished to preserve, have we wrested away control from these institutions.
Soft pats on the back and a Scooby-Snack will not be enough to entice people to reason. We must instead appeal to the need that all humans share: to wrestle against the absurd. It is in our nature to fight the confusion of enigmatic forces acting upon one another. That struggle creates order to the world we experience. If you doubt this, a simple test can be arranged: simply try and manage that monster struggle after a only few days of sleeplessness. Our capacity for reason is the ultimate triumph of this struggle, but it is a delicate thing, difficult to maintain, and often contrary to our more potent instincts.
We must dissuade them as strongly as we can not to surrender this fragile capacity for reason simply for wishful fantasy. At the end of the day, I believe it is our desire to win the struggle for reason that will make us triumphant, and it is not one we should mask in an effort to be polite.
NOTE: I intend to coax Dr. Eberth to a long discussion of these topics for a future radio show. I believe these kinds of discussions are vital in understanding the appropriate response to the growing irrationality of our society.