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A blogger on Scienceblogs reformulates what has become a common critique against the current renaissance of robust examination of religious beliefs and the psychological basis of those beliefs.
We dislike it [Dawkins’ book The God Delusion] because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two.
Well, some of us think that they should care. From what I understand, Dawkins is fighting against unreason in general, and he sees religion (quite correctly in our view) as the most prominent and serious manifestation of this at work in the world today.
The more watered-down sects that are now popular in some parts of the world only got that way through being forced to adapt by (largely secular) changes in society. If we don’t keep pushing things forward, the situation could quite easily deteriorate further - toward what is presently considered the fundamentalist end of the religious spectrum.
So Dawkins is correct to point out that in the larger scheme of things, religious moderates are not benign, since their beliefs (despite on the surface appearing to be very different from those of the fundamentalists) have the same foundations in unreason as any other beliefs not based on reason and held on faith.
I noted with interest that he seems to have abandoned his claim that an agnostic is somebody who has an evenly balanced probability assessment of the existence of God, which is total crap. But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren’t. I doubt it.
Atheists are making knowledge claims: we claim that there is no valid knowledge about the existence of any gods, and that the correct approach (on both logical and ethical grounds) is therefore to reject belief in such beings. In addition to being unjustified intellectually, faith-based belief systems (whether theological, political or economic) are also destructive, divisive and dangerous. That is why we won’t just try to ignore them or ‘frame’ scientific discoveries in misleading ways so as not to offend anybodies beliefs.
In essence, these arguments boil down to playing the ‘respect’ card - the (bad) idea that religious beliefs are somehow deserving of being held above criticism. And why are we told that we shouldn’t criticise religious beliefs? Because religious beliefs are the foundation of an individuals’ world view! Think about that for a second - how then can so-called rationalists claim that what people believe is not important, if these beliefs admittedly form the whole basis of the way they look at the world?6 years ago