To the self-righteous, boring New Atheists, I wish to counterpoint the smiling (or perhaps smi2ling followers of Timothy Leary’s transhumanist vision), science-oriented New Believers.
According to Wikipedia, the New Atheists advocate the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
I find New Atheists intolerant thought-cops, dull bigots without a sense of humor, and terminally boring. I think of them (perhaps unfairly) as self-righteous sadists who take pleasure in telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and telling grieving person that they will never see their loved ones again.
They claim to have a scientific worldview, but they reject even science when it seems to tell us that the universe may be mostly unknown, with rooms for many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their terminally dull, politically correct philosophy.
Fortunately, more and more people are denouncing New Atheists’ New Bigotry. “Tanya Gold recently ridiculed the idea of religion as a force for evil. ‘The idea of my late church-going mother-in-law beating homosexuals or instituting a pogrom is obviously ridiculous, although she did help with jumble sales and occasionally church flowers’,” Disinfo reports.
In fact, New Atheists construct a straw-man that is representative of only a very small fraction of believers (those who do beat homosexuals and institute pogroms), and in a typical intellectually dishonest fashion use their straw-man to attack all believers. They also claim that science and religion are totally incompatible, which only shows their ignorance of both.
To the New Atheists, I wish to counterpoint the New Believers.
Who are they?
Well, I am one, and I know many others.
Perhaps “believe” is too strong a word, because many of us don’t really “believe” with blind faith in a religion revealed by scriptures and regulated by authorities. Rather, we search meaning, compassion, hope, and happiness, in a vast and mostly mysterious reality inhabited by inconceivably advanced intelligences.
In the wise and beautiful words of D. H. Lawrence, “A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.” We, the New Believers, find inspiration in science (and good science fiction) to gather and shape our personal religion.
Richard Dawkins (yes, Richard Dawkins, the leading atheist thinker) says that “It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures.” In The God Delusion (yes, the New Atheist holy book), he says that very advanced civilizations may attain, by self-directed evolution, powers that would seem supernatural to us, including the ability to create pocket universes and simulated realities inhabited by sentient beings.
Perhaps our universe was created, or simulated (there is no real difference) by Dawkins’ natural Gods. Perhaps alien advanced civilizations can and do resurrect the dead by means of very advanced, “magic” (in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law) space-time technologies, like my dear friend Dan Massey used to argue. Perhaps our descendants will become natural Gods, and achieve, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions, and resurrect the dead from the past by copying them to the future.
The difference with traditional belief systems is all in the words “natural” and “perhaps.”
Our ancestors could only “explain” lightning as something “supernatural,” but we know better. To New Believers, a “supernatural explanation” is a contradiction in terms. There may be huge gaps in our current understanding of reality, but we are confident that science will gradually fill these gaps, and we hope that the transcendence promised by religions will be realized by future science. Instead of the certainty of blind faith, we have scientific imagination and hope.
Without certainty and belief in “the supernatural,” New Believers may sound like smiling (or perhaps smi2ling followers of Timothy Leary‘s transhumanist vision) atheists (see the comments here) who read good science fiction. But I think the parallels with traditional religions are much more important than the differences. We do believe that in the universe there may be Gods, and we do hope to be reunited with loved ones in an afterlife.
Needless to say, many traditional believers would disagree. This is one of those “third ways” that are often passionately rejected by those who believe in the old ways, but in my opinion it is a Hegelian synthesis of what is good in the old and new ways: it is firmly based on science, and at the same time it offers all the important mental devices of religion, including hope in resurrection. Hoping in an afterlife has survival value for both individuals and societies, because it gives people the strength to continue to live instead of withdrawing (or worse) in despair.
Some New Believers don’t go to church — to them, the universe is a church — but others find it easy to reconcile their ideas with organized religion. The Mormon Transhumanist Association represents the best example of New Believers within a mainstream Church.
Mormonism has a concept of boundless elevation and exaltation of Man, through all means including science and technology, until he becomes like God. Conversely, God was once like Man before attaining an exalted status. “[Mormonism] allows for humans to ascend to a higher, more godlike level,” writes Max More in his introduction to The Transhumanist Reader, “rather than sharply dividing God from Man.” Mormon transhumanists are persuaded that we will become like God — through science and technology — in a progression without end, and this seems a more faithful interpretation of the teachings of Joseph Smith and a return to the roots of the Mormon religion.
Besides Mormon transhumanists, I know many New Believers in mainstream Christianity, who reconcile their scientific worldview with Christian faith. They are tolerant of others’ personal preferences and lifestyle (they don’t beat homosexuals and institute pogroms). Christian Transhumanists like Frank J. Tipler, James McLean Ledford and Micah Redding promote a compassionate, smiling, smi2ling, scientific, transhumanist interpretation of Christianity similar to to Nikolai Fedorov and the Russian Cosmists. There is a Facebook group and some good blogs for Christian Transhumanists, but no “Christian Transhumanist Association” that I am aware of. I think creating one would be a good idea.
I am sure that there are many New Believers in other religions as well. I think they should speak up, and recognize New Believers in other religions as fellow travelers, and perhaps get organized as New Believers. Despite superficial differences (which unfortunately have been and are still used to justify bloody holy wars), all religions are based on the same aspirations to transcendence, which will be realized by science.