An agnostic’s perspective

Brett Markham reviews The Irrational Atheist on Amazon:

I am not on either side of the atheist/religionist camp. I have enjoyed some of Dawkins’ work (such as The Blind Watchmaker) but personally I do not consider creationism and evolution to be mutually exclusive. Could not a deity, for example, create through evolution?

Likewise, I am keenly aware that on the sentience quotient scale (SQ), which is logarithmic, it is entirely possible for entities to exist that are as much more sentient than humans as humans are more sentient than rocks, meaning we could understand such entities about as well as rocks understand humans. And to such entities, our “science” would be as meaningful as the “science” that rocks formulate is meaningful to us. So the concept of deity falls, in my opinion, within the realm of theoretical possibility without contradicting science.

At the same time, the idea that some person’s interpretation of the meaning of an unverifiable deity’s words should regulate my choices seems disconnected from reality. I do not appreciate proselyte atheism (which seems more like an intolerant religion than science to me) any more than I appreciate someone informing me that his deity’s will is for me to burn in Hell. At the same time, I appreciate that it is difficult if not impossible to create self-referential moral codes and can see both the benefits and harms attributed to both deistic religions (such as Catholicism) and non-deistic religions (such as atheism and feminism).

That having been said, I truly and thoroughly enjoyed this book. A lot. For truly intellectually curious people who don’t want to live in an echo chamber, this book is truly thought-provoking in a number of important realms.

As a scientist and engineer, I am keenly aware of the fact scientists and technologists of various sorts are paid every day to apply their skills and knowledge to ethically dubious ends. It is extremely common for such people to adopt an attitude of moral agnosticism and effectively do whatever they are paid to do. Witness, for example, the fact that fields of science gave us nerve gas, biological weapons, Xyklon B and nuclear bombs. It is science that, in the future, may well produce breeds of post-humans that hold mere humans in thrall or create custom humans as slaves. Though followers of deistic religions may well have wreaked havoc, it is only science that holds the promise of efficient and achievable genocide, and the vaporization of untold hundreds of thousands or millions of people in the blink of an eye.

Though this book spends a lot of very entertaining time pointing out the contradictions, inconsistencies and even hypocrisy of self-proclaimed Atheists who make a big deal of their atheism, the major contribution of this book, in my opinion, is at the intersection of science and morality. It takes a deep breath, takes a step back, takes a hard look, and asks meaningful and important questions.

Science and technology are powerful, and their application has profound implications for the nature of human life in the future.

Though the atheist/religionist debate is often framed in terms of a war between reason and mysticism, Vox Day shows the irrationality that likewise underlies atheism — and then exposes science to the blinding glare of observation and asks the important moral questions.

I consider this book to be important. Very important. It is not particularly important from the perspective of debate, but rather for the questions it raises concerning the junction of science and morality as well as the future of human societies.

The reviewer rather presciently focuses on an area that has been of increasing interest to me in the time since I wrote TIA. The blithe assumption on the part of many scientists and science fetishists that science is somehow beyond good and evil on the basis of its effectiveness is potentially disastrous.

Already, we are seeing limits imposed on scientific publishing, as in the case of the recent court decision in the Netherlands concerning a ban on the scientific publication of research related to viruses. “For the first time, it is now clear that with this regulation, the distribution of scientific knowledge can also be restricted.”

This genuine limitation on scientific research hasn’t stirred much anywhere nearly as much outrage among the scientific community as stickers on various biology schoolbooks, which indicates that many, if not most, scientists are far more concerned with defending their present scientific paradigms than they are with defending science itself. Which, in itself, poses a fairly serious philosophical problem.