I just went through Lawrence M. Krauss’s succinct article ‘All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists’ in which he builds a smart case for brandishing ‘Militant Atheism’ by all scientists. It is a nuanced piece characterized by charming repartee, that enlightens the reader about the necessity of being ‘militant’ (as in aggressive and iconoclastic), when it comes to confronting religious dogma that bars scientific truths to be recognized and accepted.
The article is written in particular backdrop of Kim Davis’s denial to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, but rises above the issue to address the underlying basic questions concerning the relationship of religion with law, and more importantly, with science.
Considering the angle of the author, I think, by and large, it is a compelling case. My observation, though apparent from the title of my article, is that the author has not tried to fathom the full purport of the term ‘Militant Atheism’. Perhaps, he has conflated the terms ‘atheism’ and ‘secularism’, wittingly or unwittingly. Or alternatively, has not assimilated the scope of the term ‘Militant Atheism’ to begin with.
The conflation of secularism and atheism is obvious, but limited to, only when Mr. Krauss talks about the relationship between religion and law. As any reader must have appreciated, this discussion lies under the head of ‘secularism’, not ‘atheism’. If this correction is made, the points made against Hobby Lobby, Kim Davis or Stem Cell research for that matter, are all logical and weighty. So that’s that!
To me, however, the alternative angle, i.e. the amorphous scope of militant atheism, is of more significance. Because despite the narrow angle fine-tuned to scientific discoveries intended or remarked at by the author, many atheists will use it as some kind of vindication for being both atheists and militants (aggressive) when dealing with religion in general. In fact, it may very well be that the author intended it himself when writing the article. Hence, this claim needs to be analyzed.
When dealing with – i.e. discovering and opining about – the workings of nature, the correct approach towards religion should be that of ‘irrelevance’. And the author rightly states it so in the article. But thereafter, the author builds the case that because scientific discoveries often contradict religious beliefs, they ipso facto attract rebuke and demand openly challenging those beliefs in order to make the scientific facts stand out. Hence, scientists should openly defend their findings; no matter they offend the religious. In this sense, he states, they need to be militant. If so, then there can be no objection to it.
But then he goes on to somehow use these same causes to arrive at the notion of atheism, in addition to being militant. This, to any logical person, should appear non-sequitur – and correctly so.
There are two stages to establish a scientific truth. First, of course, is the discovery of that truth by the scientist. To this stage, the label of ‘militant’ couldn’t reasonably be applied. It is surely intended for the second stage wherein the scientist has to present and defend his discovery, that the term militant atheism can be applied. Nevertheless, here too, ‘militant’ is applicable – in fact desirable and mandatory – however, ‘atheism’ is not!
A discovery can be in conflict with a particular teaching of a particular religion. When that teaching is challenged by a scientist, all it means, and all that is needed for the scientist to profess, is that he holds that belief to be flawed; or even that he doesn’t care about it: It is not his job to bring science in conformity with religion. Because the maximum he could logically be challenging is the authenticity of that religious teaching, and its correctness. To claim from this that hence there is no God, is without reason. He can reasonably claim that hence that religious scripture or hence that religion cannot be from God. But how from one discovery can he possibly challenge not just a particular teaching or religion, but every religion on the face of the Earth; and then top it off with ‘there is no creator’! I mean just think of the sheer amount of research he would have to do to make such a blanket claim.
Of course, I am not saying that there can never possibly be a discovery that could enable a scientist to challenge every religion in one go. What I am saying is concerning most of the discoveries scientists bring about; or as per the author, have to deal with militantly. These discoveries simply negate individual teachings of individual religions, and erect no demands to challenge the existence of God altogether. Just like challenging a particular claim in the special theory of relativity does not necessitate negating the existence of Einstein. Why would it!
Notwithstanding, atheism does have its use during the first stage, logically speaking. You know, the discovery stage. Mr. Krauss has quoted J.B.S. Haldane, the biologist, astutely on this account. The purport of his quotation being that religious beliefs are irrelevant to scientific discoveries. In fact, and as is of common knowledge, any bias of the scientists, be it religious or otherwise, is absolutely inimical to the process of scientific discovery. I personally believe this can be achieved without professing to be – or approaching – as an atheist, but whatever floats your boat! If being an atheist makes you achieve this standard of impartiality, then so be it. More so, I recognize the obvious benefits of being one, for the duration of the discovery stage.
But what this approach means is by no means a vindication for atheism in general. It is only shedding off certain quirks or characteristics temporarily that are necessary to achieve optimum results in a particular scenario. This is no different, for instance, from doctors leaving emotions out of the operation theatre. This doesn’t mean that emotions are bad, or a vice, or untrue. All it says is that they are damaging to a particular activity. Or like teachers sequestering their liking/disliking when grading students. This doesn’t say anything about the feelings of liking and disliking in the human nature in general, except perhaps pointing out times for their discretion. These can be called as necessary work hazards, as they can dehumanize a person if left unchecked, and not carefully put back on outside of work; but they can never be candidates for permanent adoption outside of their demanding premises, or as a principle for life.
That is why I wrote that perhaps the author has not assimilated ‘Militant Atheism’ to begin with. The case he has built only merits a title similar to the one I have stated. ‘Militant’ is only applicable to the second stage. Whereas atheism, though has applicability and benefits in the first stage, is only a workbench specific attitude that cannot be supported as a general belief by this fact alone.