By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 04 May 2014
Sunday Nation 04 May 2014
In the past few days, the media have uncharacteristically given lots of attention to the atheist idea and its proponents. A prominent atheist has been interviewed several times on various television stations, and newspapers have written about him and his lack of religious beliefs. As a result, many religious folk have reacted with consternation, arguing that it is wrong to give prominence to the idea that gods do not exist, and that humans are responsible for all decisions they make.
A key feature of all debates between atheists and theists is the idea that everyone must believe in something supernatural, and that if someone does not believe in a god or system of gods, they must then have another belief to replace that. Many think that all atheists have replaced gods with science, or the theory of evolution, to be specific.
As a result of this argument, we live with the misconception that religious ideas are competing at the same level as scientific ideas. In my opinion, it is important to make the distinction that these two systems cannot, by definition, operate at the same level of reasoning.
Whenever two people engage with differing points of view, no amount of passion will win the debate unless logical arguments are presented to support the views. It does not matter whether you are discussing who is the best person to elect as president, or if the sun will rise tomorrow, or indeed if it is right to kill another human being because he dresses differently. Logical arguments are persuasive and convince people to change whenever they encounter them.
Scientific arguments follow this rule to the letter. One can never make a persuasive scientific argument while presenting no logical support for it. In other words, whenever one makes a proposition they are required to provide the evidence. In science, one must lay bare their methods and results, and allow other interested scientists to try and prove the proposition wrong. In other words, science thrives on scepticism and constant questioning.
That is how we have been able to discover more ways of making life easier and more comfortable.
APPEARANCE OF LOGIC
On the other hand, religious arguments, while they start with the appearance of logic, end with the completely illogical assertion that there are some things that cannot be interrogated or known, except by some mysterious supreme being.
Faith – the idea that it is okay to believe that something is true on the basis that someone authoritative said it is so – is glorified in most religions, and questioning the deity is frowned upon. Doubting the deity is accompanied by threats of eternal damnation, and even earthly punishment.
It is difficult for one to elevate both these ideas to the same level, and argue that they can stand on the same pedestal and attempt to persuade humanity to accept them as equals. How can that be when the religious apologists attempt to use scientific arguments to prove their claims, and when that eventually comes to a cul de sac, they invoke the infallibility of their revelation or authorities?
As we discuss the issue of religion and its effects in our society, these are some of the issues we must take into consideration.
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. firstname.lastname@example.org