My Arrogance – Sat 2nd Jun 07

Noun

arrogance

1. The act or habit of arrogating, or making undue claims in an overbearing manner; that species of pride which consists in exorbitant claims of rank, dignity, estimation, or power, or which exalts the worth or importance of the person to an undue degree; proud contempt of others; lordliness; haughtiness; self-assumption; presumption.

 

When I was a theist, the idea of not believing “anything” at all was strange, and almost offensive. I understood that atheists didn’t believe in any god at all, and understood that agnostics weren’t sure either way; firmly in the middle (in my opinion this is a misunderstanding of the meaning of agnostic).

To not believe in God? To think you can explain the whole universe without recourse to the Almighty? The claim to have all the answers and reject the notion of anything beyond the natural world? Arrogance. Sheer conceit. That’s what I thought about atheists, and therefore most of the scientific community, whilst at the same time loving science ever since I was a child. But for me, there was no contradiction here – and there isn’t. One can be a scientist and believe in God. (To be a scientist of the natural world and believe in the gods of established monotheism takes some mental contortionism however.)

I remember watching documentaries and feeling indignant whenever the expressions “natural selection”, “mutation”, or “evolution” came up. Here I was, watching a programme showing the beauty of nature and the universe which tacitly praised my God (in my mind anyway), and it being ruined by godless Satanic lies about the origin of life! People would be watching this and believing these lies! My god was being pushed aside, just because man thinks he’s got all the answers. He thinks he doesn’t need God anymore. He thinks he’s got it all sussed. The arrogance.

Arrogance is often used pejoratively about scientists and atheists. Why? Well if the reasons for this are anything like my reasons for once believing it per the above, it’s because many people believe science claims to have all the answers. And with atheism, because atheists claim to know that there is no God. A bold claim it may seem, or perhaps haughty. After all, aren’t there millions of different faiths in the world? How can one know for certain that God doesn’t exist? Wouldn’t one have to be omniscient to prove the non-existence of an omniscient being?

First of all, science doesn’t claim to have all the answers. It doesn’t. Science is the study of the natural world, and the explanation of empirical facts with natural solutions. This means that science requires evidence, and science rejects the supernatural. Science doesn’t say the supernatural doesn’t exist! It just says that if it does exist it can’t study it. Science assumes that the world has laws and that everything in the world can be understood with natural explanations. This is a methodological assumption – and admittedly a metaphysical one. (But one could argue that all epistemologies are founded on metaphysical assumptions.)

Science does not assume it already knows anything about the world. Science is about discovering facts, or truth if you will, (only without the mystical hand baggage that goes with that word).

Science uses theories to explain things about the world. The fact: objects falls to the ground, is explained using an explanatory structure that explains how they fall and why: the theory of gravity. The theory of gravity is not a fact and never will be. It is not 100% certain and is not immune to change, revision, or rejection. If it is rejected it will be replaced by a better one.

The more a theory can explain and predict, the better the theory is. Some theories are better than others. Some theories are so powerful and detailed that it would be impossible to understand the world without them.

That science will one day figure everything out is not a scientific claim in itself! Some people might believe this, but that’s an opinion. I personally believe that if something in this universe can be known, science will one day discover it (although science itself makes no such claims). Is this arrogant? Well, if the world can be explained through natural means and science is the natural explanation of the world, then why not?

Science is our best method of understanding the universe. That isn’t my opinion. That’s a fact. It’s a fact because by any measurable means, it is undoubtedly true. Some may disagree with this, and indeed they’ll probably think that claim is arrogant. Here’s the kicker: they’re wrong. Yes, that’s right: wrong. Again, calling someone totally wrong invites more claims of arrogance, but that doesn’t make it so. Imagine meeting someone who thinks the earth is flat. Is it open to debate? No. Is their understanding of the earth as good as yours? No. Are you right and them wrong? Yes! It’s not arrogance – you have the facts on your side, and you can prove it!

Every leap forward mankind has ever made: biologically, geologically, civilly, technologically, etc, has been through science. Now, I’m not saying religious people have never played their part. I’m saying religion has never played its part. When was the last time we discovered anything through prayer? When was the last time a scientist was struggling to complete an important theory and turned to the bible or the Koran for help? I’m not saying because of this that religion is wrong – but religion is useless when it comes to learning about the natural world. However, science is brilliant at it.

I’m not going to turn this into a pissing contest between science and religion either. If religion has any virtues, discovery and knowledge are not part of them.

The point I’m trying to make is that confidence and knowledge are wrongly perceived as arrogance by those who misunderstand.

Science has a very impressive record when it comes to figuring things out, so it’s not arrogant to have a lot of confidence in science. A common retort which has been said to me is “but science can’t explain everything.” Well maybe not, but what’s your alternative? Imagination? Guesswork? Revelation? Personal opinion? Meditation? Tradition? Authority? Holy books? Faith? Prayer? Dreams?

Well if we relied on those things alone we’d still be living in caves. I’m sure anyone can agree with that. So if I think that science is our best tool for understanding the world, does that make me arrogant? No. It’s just a fact. Being convinced of facts isn’t closed-mindedness, stubbornness, or conceit. It’s common sense. We just have to make sure that the evidence is on our side before we claim to know anything.

Are atheists arrogant? Well, atheism means no belief in God. Since there are potentially an infinite number of things to believe in, every human being disbelieves in countless things. How can disbelief in itself be arrogant? It can’t.

But should atheists believe? Well, consider that every human is born an atheist. Fact. If the religious disagree with me on this, I invite them to not indoctrinate children or proselytise. If a child was brought up without any religious influence, which religion of the thousands in the world would it one day suddenly choose to follow? Well, this is too big a chance for the religious to take, which is why as soon as a child can talk, it is taught to believe in the god of its parents.

There is no evidence that a god exists. Fact. That’s not arrogance, it’s the truth. There is no empirical evidence for god. The arguments for god are old and still used today. But they have all been refuted. Believing that the complexity and order in the universe is evidence of design does not prove god. It’s an opinion, more so a metaphysical belief. If complexity and order proves design and therefore god, surely god is more complex and ordered?? So who designed god? There are retorts to this line of thinking but they all fail.

I’m not going to examine all the arguments for god and refute them here. That’s been done many times.

So if I’m not convinced by any of the arguments in favour of god, am I arrogant to disbelieve? No. If I see the lies, hypocrisy, and contradictions of all religions, and decide that they’re false, is this conceited? No. If I reject a story of faith-healing, or miracle claim without seeing it for myself, am I arrogant? No. Because to accept it would be to suspend rationalism, common sense, and everything we understand about the world.

Do I think every theist in the world is wrong and I’m right? Yes. That’s NOT arrogance. It might appear so, and I might appear arrogant. Indeed, whether I’m an arrogant person or not is irrelevant. But do my beliefs reflect that? No. An atheist, skeptic, scientist, free-thinker etc, may or may not be arrogant – ok, we’re all human. But are they arrogant because of their beliefs?? No.

And here’s why: evidence. For example, all the evidence in the world proves evolution. So if I reject creationism as the metaphysical myth that it is, that’s fair enough. There is no evidence to prove god. So if I think all monotheistic religions harp back to the bronze-age sky-creature that loves war and hates woman, that’s ok too, because the facts are on my side.

Chi, crystal-healing, prayer, takionics, feng shui, transcendental meditation etc: I think these things are all rubbish. I think that because they go against logic and a scientific understanding of the world. As we looked at earlier, in a contest between science and another understanding of the world, I’ll take science any day. Is this arrogant? I cannot possibly see how!

Although I’m a liberal person, many issues today are filed in the ultra-liberal drawer of politically-correctness. This means that although the person you’re talking with might be spewing the most inane babble you’ve ever heard, you have to respect their opinion. Well I don’t. Respect has to be earned.

There’s a difference between respecting a person and their right to have an opinion, and respecting that opinion itself. If someone thinks the earth is flat, I’m not going to respect that. If someone believes in chi, I can still respect them as a human, but think that their opinion is nonsense. That’s not arrogance. You should not be afraid of being right or being wrong. You should put your money where your mouth is. Bogus beliefs and nonsense should not be respected. We should respect facts and truth. How do we decide which is which? Evidence. It’s really that simple.

I might be wrong. If confronted with evidence of god, I would believe. In fact, I’d believe anything if the evidence proved it. I’d reject any belief I currently have, and embrace any belief I otherwise don’t, if it was proved to be true. (Assuming I speak for most atheists and sceptics when I say that), surely that’s not arrogance? In fact, admitting that you might be wrong and are ready to be proved wrong is anything but arrogant!

But, is there a group of people in the world who won’t be proved wrong? Are there people out there who are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong, regardless of the facts? Are there people who claim to have all the answers, with absolute certainty and not a trace of doubt, about everything in the universe, including things they cannot possibly know?

Yes. And here’s the irony: they are the very ones who accuse atheists and scientists of being arrogant. They are the fundamentalists.

Fundamentalists, and to a lesser extent all theists, believe that they are absolutely certain where the universe came from. They believe with 100% certainty that God exists. They know categorically that all other faiths are wrong and theirs is correct. No doubt about it. Whatever evidence suggests otherwise is to be rejected.

The suicide bombers of 9/11 were absolutely certain they were doing the right thing. They knew they were killing infidels. They had no doubt they were doing the work of god. They were convinced they were going to heaven in the afterlife with blessings and virgins to come.

You can substitute the 9/11 terrorists for the Christian crusades, or the Spanish Inquisitions, or the Salem Witch Trials. In fact, all religious wars and atrocities (take your pick) are predicated on absolute certainty, or worse: one absolute certainty versus another.

You can show a fundamentalist all the evidence in the world. You won’t convince him. You can explain right and wrong, and ask him to justify his actions and prove what he believes. But it doesn’t matter. He is certain he is right and nothing can change his mind.

Whereas science looks at the facts, and tries to come up with the best tentative explanation, it’s religion that, without doing any research or study; without consulting a body of experts or arguing over the facts in a formal controlled manner, decides that x and y are certain indisputable facts, and cannot be challenged. Who’s arrogant now?

Smells like wine, looks like wine, tastes like wine. What is it? The literal blood of Jesus Christ of course! Such absurdities are typical of the nonsense religion decides are facts. Contraception? Wrong. Why? It just is, and you can be certain of it! Homosexuality, abortion, atheism, pre-marital sex? Evil. Wrong. Sinful. Why? Because the bible says so; because the pope says so; because the priest or your parents say so; take your pick. Can we question? Can we look into it for ourselves? Can we talk about it and make our own minds up? No.

Sometimes it’s seen as audacious to reject other people’s beliefs and think that you are right. But there is nothing wrong with rejecting dogma when the evidence is on your side.

If someone is really convinced they have the truth, invite them to prove it without referring to faith or using circular reasoning. What do they have to be afraid of?

No, religion decides with complete certainty what is or isn’t the case. It assumes it is right, it has always been right, and always will be right. And of course that everyone else is wrong. And worse still, that you cannot challenge it.

Are the arrogant people those who:

Demand evidence; reject superstition; refuse to believe based on revelation and authority; use tried-and-tested logical tools to discover information; dismiss the contradictory and illogical claims of others; don’t interfere in other people’s lives; encourage diversity in all aspects of life; accept differences.

Or those who:

Reject evidence; embrace superstition; believe because they are told to; tell others what to believe without proof; use faith to “discover” knowledge regardless of the evidence; reject all opposing claims whilst being totally certain of their own; tell other people how live; try to control speech, dress, sex, and attitudes of others; discourage independence and free-thought; encourage conformity; dislike differences; assume that they have always been, are, and will always be right.

I believe if we are honest with ourselves and try to see all points of view for what they actually are and more importantly, how they actually behave, it is clear who the arrogant ones really are.

Are not the ones who are teachable, tolerant, and truth-searchers, the meek ones? Let’s hope Jesus was right when in his Sermon on the Mount he said that these are the ones who shall inherit the earth.

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