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The Boston Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › The New Theologians

The New Theologians

Boston, MA
Post #: 22
I was having an inpromptu discussion with a theology student at the BU campus. She mentioned that she was a firm believer and loves religion, although she does not believe in the Bible being infallible or that there is heaven or hell. When pressed about why she thinks religion is good, she mentioned all the "good" things it has done and all the comfort it provides.
When I pointed out all the bad things it has done, she promptly answered by saying that we atheists believe in Darwinism and what about all the bad things done in the name of social Darwinism? To that point, I could only reply that it was not atheists who misused "social Darwinism" but politicians and policymakers, most of whom were religious believers. However, the point stayed stuck in my mind about the social Darwinism experiments done in the USA, the erstwhile USSR and obviously Nazi Germany.
Does anyone have a better explanation as to why those social Darwinism experiments amounting to misuse of scientific knowledge are any different from misuse of "religious knowledge" (which may sound stupid) but it is important to know the difference - at least to me.
Zachary B.
Boston, MA
Post #: 193
If I was to paraphrase your position, it is that "social Darwinism" is another example of inflexible ideology, wherein the dictates of the system are not adjusted to suit changing conditions. Most religious belief is also ideological. Where science can influence ethics and politics helpfully (and not just by providing data), is by serving as a model for a non-ideological system. As the empirical situation changes, so does science.

This distinction, between empirical and ideological systems, helps us circumvent the nasty rhetorical trick whereby our complaint that "religion breeds wars" is neutralized by the retort, "ah yes but Stalin and Mao represented atheistic regimes."

The cause of suffering in the cases above was not theism and atheism respectively; it was ideology across the board. I am an atheist, yes, but only by dint of being a free-thinking human being who recognizes ideology as a constraint on my empirical view of the world and on my responsibility to craft an ethical response to each new situation I find myself in, consistent with my conscience as the only reliable guide to moral action.

In short, atheists are not Darwinists -- they are no kind of "-ists" at all. The term "atheist" is helpful and accurate only because it is so minimal. What we have in common AS atheists is only a lack of belief on a single question of limited extent: we are not theists. Leaving the rest of our character, values, personhood, etc., to be conveyed through the rather more detailed means of actual human relationships, and the more difficult mode of extended communication. Pity, I know; wouldn't it be nice if we could carry a business card that would present all the pertinent information? An appealing idea, but one which in practice would reduce us all to labels.

Any experiment carried out in the name of "social Darwinism" is ideologically-motivated. Freethinkers don't act in the name of anything; they have their own names, eh? And accordingly they take personal responsibility for their actions.
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