Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Authority Gap

It may not be apparent to some, but I am a person who does a lot of arguing; in the course of my debates, conversations, disagreements and just plain shouting matches, I've come accross one type of person, one ideology, with which I simply cannot make any headway. Logic aside, this has to do with a paradigm problem; there is an incompatibility in our worldviews which apparently cannot be reconciled.

I speak, of course, of the religious fundamentalists who attack authority figures instead of attempting to counter arguments. I have begun to call this the Authority Gap (hence the title).

Take, for example, Anthony Flew whose beautiful essay, Theology and Falsification, is an elegant, surgical dissection of the essential problems of religious belief. It is linked here and there is a permanent link on this blog called Elegant Atheism. In recent years, however, it appears that Mr. Flew has had a change of heart; he no longer embraces Atheism with the same fervour as he once did. It's a shame; his was brilliant work and I'm afraid we will not see any more in that vein - or much at all, for that matter, his age considered. That being said, that he has had a change of heart is thoroughly meaningless; the act of putting pen to paper has given his ideas a permanence that apparently does not exist in his own mind.

Essentially, we have his arguments, we no longer need him - we will miss his support, but that is an issue of preference and not necessity.

And yet, those who would argue against his logic simply use his change of heart as evidence of a fallacious initial argument. This, I fear, is due to the nature of our different beliefs. Scientific knowledge exists as a body of objective data, theorems, hypotheses, facts and ideas, separate from those who brought them into being (though often associated with them for reasons of intellectual honesty) whereas religious belief exists as a sort of structured ideological dictatorship; without the authority of the preachers, who rule on the morality of us all and without whose fervour religious structure and organization would break down entirely.

This disparity, between idea-based belief and authority-based belief is at the heart of statements such as 'Darwin denounced evolution on his deathbed' and 'Even Einstein believed in God.' It is not dishonest or evil; it is mistaken. It's a miscommunication.

I don't know how we should go about affecting a paradigm shift, to understand one another, but I do believe we should try. The illogic of the arguments used by those who antagonize the Atheist position has at least some of its roots in this Gap and it would be best for it to be bridged, at some point.

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