A new ‘religion’

December 27, 2019

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WHEN English philosopher the late Antony Flew, who was once called “the world’s most influential philosophical atheist”, announced his rejection of atheism in 2004, many atheists — including Richard Dawkins — criticised him for being irrational.

Flew’s response at the time was that Dawkins irrationally believed that there was no God. He also believed that Dawkins was simply spreading his own convictions and said that Dawkins had not set out to “discover and spread knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of God”.

It can be argued that atheism, in its various manifestations today, has evolved into a ‘religion’. Martin Hägglund, a Swedish-American philosopher at Yale University, recently published a book in which he offers an alternative to traditional religion. He calls it “secular faith”. Hägglund says, “what defines secular faith most fundamentally is that the object of faith is totally dependent on the practice of faith”. He says that in religious faith “is the additional idea that there is a special object of faith, like God or eternity or Nirvana, something that ultimately doesn’t depend on the practise of faith, something that exists independently and eternally”.

Atheists in science have sought to assert their authority.

Atheism’s convergence with religion is ironic. To many atheists, a belief in God is irrational and unsupported by evidence. Yet, many atheists themselves are irrational in their belief which is also not supported by any evidence.

Another example of this convergence includes atheists’ support groups similar to those that are associated with religion. In a 2015 article, journalist Christina Greta observed, “… in the last few years, secular support systems have been flowering like ... well, like flowers. Like flowers in a movie about mutant radioactive flowers, growing at astonishing rates and to colossal size”.

Normally support systems are built around a common system of belief or identity. By building more and more support systems to fill the emotional and psychological needs of humans that for millennia have been filled by religion, atheism is increasingly beginning to resemble a ‘religion’, whose core belief is that there is no God. Indeed, one of the reasons behind the recent rise in atheism in the West is “superior secular alternatives to services” that traditionally houses of worship have provided.

In the West, some zealous atheist communities have even been attempting to replace prayers in public places with non-religious prayers (which they like to call non-religious ‘invocations’) with religious fervour. Even though atheists claim they do not believe there is a higher power which humans can pray to in times of need or otherwise, they nonetheless want the ability to ‘pray’ just like religious people do. It is not clear to whom they want to address their prayers. Their only purpose appears to be making atheism more palatable to people who may feel the need to pray.

Atheists are apparently also facing issues that emanate from multiple interpretations of any idea similar to those faced by followers of religions. In a National Geographic article, journalist Gabe Bullard wrote: “Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference ... nones (people with no religion) as a group are just as internally complex as many religions.”

Throughout history, science and religion lived in harmony. In fact, during Islam’s golden age, many Muslim scientists were also religious scholars. Some of the most renowned European Renaissance scientists including Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton were also quite religious. This was true even until the mid-20th century.

Over the last few decades, however, atheists in science have sought to assert their authority by discouraging others from questioning their beliefs, similar to the ways many religious zealots have done historically. This assertion is likely both a cause and an effect of the steady decline of religion in the West. Earlier this year, renowned Yale computer scientist, David Gelernter, announced that he no longer believed in Darwin’s theory of evolution. He partly attributed his ‘conversion’ to Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt.

Gelernter lamented the lack of “free speech” concerning theories outside of Darwinism, which has become a ‘religion’ to many academics. In Gelernter’s words, “What I’ve seen, in their behaviour intellectually and at colleges across the West, is nothing approaching free speech on this topic”. He went on to say that by rejecting Darwinism, he was “attacking their religion”. Gelernter says about some of his fellow academics who were atheists, “As far as they are concerned, take your life in your hands to challenge it intellectually ... They will destroy you if you challenge it”. This could also be said of some of the more ignorant followers of many of the world’s religions.

The writer is a US-based finance professional.

iftikharuhyder@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2019