"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Funny, but fail

A Christian friend of mine shared this on Facebook recently. It's funny... no really, it is. As a caricature of the atheist worldview it works and as an atheist I take it in good part. Let's be fair, atheists are fond of similar caricatures of religious people that represent all faith positions as irrational and unthinking. Now of course you will have seen the obvious holes in the argument, but phrased as a joke we may forgive the dinosaur references and egregious omission of evolution by natural selection as a reason other than "magic".
The interesting bit is the appeal to the cosmological argument at the top, because this is where the joke really fails. For one thing, this is a straw man; no atheist except the laziest would maintain that "nothing magically exploded..." The big bang is a well tested theory, there is little doubt that as a cosmological event it happened at a specific distance away in time from now in the order of 14 billion years. Observations by various telescopes have failed to falsify the predictions contingent upon the big bang and as a working model of the observable universe it seems sound. However, hypotheses of the state of the universe preceding that event are still speculative and largely immune to experimental falsification. Consequently all scientists and most sceptics would say; "Hey! Just now, we don't know"
If this joke is representative of how theists interpret our position, we have work to do. It is work that won't go away just by pointing out the absurdity of the theistic position (which I did on Facebook anyway, 'cos you have to) as the real points are not in the scoring, but in the understanding of what science can reveal now and where its current limitations are.
It is, or seems to be, inevitable that the further science probes into the mysteries of this immense, complex and beautiful universe we inhabit the more improbable specific creation myths will become. It is also probable that, "common sense" perceptions of the universe will become undermined as working models become ever more abstract, not only to the layman but even the moderately scientifically literate.
That is both the comic appeal of this caricature and the root of its failure . It's not the literality, as there is none; It's the simplicity.

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