This week’s question: “Why let atheists talk about theology? That’s like letting English majors criticize quantum mechanics!”
As you might notice, this question was actually in a letter to the editor last week. And I happen to agree with last week’s response to the letter. In the letter, Mary Bissell wrote, “According to a recent U.S. survey, on average atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable about religions than religious people themselves.” What’s more, I found the analogy rather amusing, as I was not aware that religious theology was just as complicated, odd and nebulous as quantum mechanics.
[media-credit name=”Ian Sanders” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]At any rate, it seems to me that what Alex Johnson (“Nexus Reader Calls for Bolder Journalism and Broader Opinions,” Daily Nexus, Feb. 9, 2011) was trying to get at was that if I am not a believer — if I don’t have faith — then what kind of authority am I on matters of belief or faith?
I suppose he is right, I am no authority in matters of belief or faith, especially when it comes to things like religion, god or souls — in the sense that I don’t know what it is like to experience being a believer in a particular faith or religion. But I would argue that it at least gives me the ability to evaluate religious claims objectively. As an agnostic atheist, I don’t claim to have the “truth” about reality; I am simply one more voice in an endless sea of opinions on religion. Simply put, the best reason to let atheists talk about religion is that they are the only ones telling you that religious dogma is bunk.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.
I am nearly obsessed with religion and theology. The concept of faith is so absolutely fascinating and strange to me that I am driven to study it extensively. I spend far more time than even the average religious person reading religious texts like the Bible, Quran, Torah or what have you, and likely even more time attending religious services or, hell, even listening to religious music. There is a certain passion and fogginess behind it that’s just mesmerizing.
So I do study theology in my own way; I study it extensively from a curious perspective. I feel like I have a relatively firm grasp on the subject, and while I may not be an expert, I’d certainly think I’m more qualified than the average Joe. I was raised without any sort of religious guidance one way or the other, and my lack of belief only came out of looking into religion so extensively, and looking at it from every perspective that I could. It seemed appealing, but implausible and, ultimately, harmful.
The other problem here is the implication that atheists have never felt or known faith. The majority of atheists I know (most of my friends and acquaintances really) come to their perspective by losing their faith. So regardless of the perspective considered here, atheists are a just a little less ignorant and apathetic than they seem.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
This week’s question, fielded from a letter to the editor that the Nexus graciously published last week, is an archetypal example of an argument from authority.
Arguments from authority are, of course, not always fallacious, because authorities are often more knowledgeable about their fields of study or expertise than laymen. However, an argument from authority becomes problematic when the authority’s opinion is given undue weight simply because of the authority’s position. In this case, the author of the question is ascribing to theists knowledge and understanding of philosophical theory and theology that they are, abstractly, undue. And in the same breath, the author ascribes to atheists a deficiency of knowledge that they are, abstractly, undue.
There may well be some atheists who do not understand religion, and some theists who do, but that does not indicate that the opinions or arguments of the groups as a whole ought to be given automatic credibility. After all, “atheist” and “theist” only indicate one’s belief as to a subject. If we were discussing the logic and evidence related to unicorns, and on one hand we had a person who believed in unicorns and on the other a person who did not, would we immediately dismiss the person who did not believe as unable to participate in or contribute to the debate? Of course not, because their belief has nothing to do with the validity of their logic.
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.