- Published on Wednesday, 07 March 2012 07:08
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1306
If I am asked what my religion is, I'm likely to say "I don't have one". The person asking will then say (or just think) that I must be either agnostic or atheist. They think I have a religion called atheism. You can argue semantics all you like - the word atheism means NO belief in a god but most people think of it as a set of beliefs and they think that means it's a religion. Linguistic scholars will tell you that words can change their meaning with time - common usage ends up defining their meaning. For example, terrific used to mean terrifying but now means great.
Recently, Richard Dawkins told the Archbishop of Canterbury that he's agnostic since he's not 100% certain there's no God. He's only as certain as he is that there's no Santa Claus. (I think he actually said "as certain that there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden" - but that's an English expression which can cause a giggle here). By the Oxford English dictionary definition of atheist and agnostic, he's really agnostic. Dawkins and I both trust the scientific method but no science that I can think of is 100% certain of anything although one can act as if it is correct. Newton wrote down some laws that work as long as you are not going anywhere near the speed of light. But in fact his laws are not 100% right. He was "wrong": calculations using his equations have miniscule errors. But for all usual situations, you can ignore the error.
In fact if you delve into quantum mechanics, there is no such thing as a certainty - just high probabilities. I have been asked whether I'm agnostic or atheist and I answer "atheist" even though, strictly speaking, I am agnostic. Maybe Dawkins should do the same. Why am I (strictly speaking) agnostic? Because I have an open mind. It's conceivable that evidence could be found to prove that a god exists but it's unlikely. In fact I'd estimate it to be 1 in many billions but I don't really know. [See also "What it would take for me to become a Christian"] I can't know - but then neither can religious people know that God does exist. They have chosen to believe - or in most cases it's really to affirm that they will continue to believe in the religion they were brought up in. You can compare this remote possibility with the higher probability that I will die in the next minute or so. But I continue in what I do with the assumption that I will continue to live for a while longer. My non-belief in a god is in the same category - I act as if there is none. There is no impact of a god on my life nor the life of anyone I have ever met nor on any world events. There is an impact from what people believe but not from the actions of any god. So I live my life and see the world around me as natural and free of any supernatural god.
But that does not stop other people from believing in a god and does not stop them saying that my religion is atheism!
Of course there's a touch of embarrassment (or something) in people's desire to want everyone to have a religion. Wouldn't they look silly if they discovered that they had been hanging on to their religion through faith and found out that they were in a minority - what if their peers, friends and "just everyone" did not have faith? Right now in Canada and certainly in the U.S., there's no danger of that. But this desire to be in the right team; to be in the right crowd; to have friends who are "sensible" (that is think like them) means that they want everyone to have the same religion as them - but failing that, to have some kind of religion, some kind of blind faith. They probably feel they are being kind - John has a religion just like everyone else!