“You Keep on Using that Word…I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means.”
By Charlie Ducey
Lawrence Krauss wrote an article for The New Yorker recently with the explosively antagonistic title “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists.” I don’t think he quite understands what the word atheist means.
Although a theoretical physicist by training, Krauss is also a frequent commentator in the religion and science debate. In the article linked above, Krauss primarily discusses the Kim Davis case and argues for the necessary separation of church and state. In typical Lawrence Krauss fashion, he starts off being reasonable and innocuous, with comments such as, “No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal” and “Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them [religious ideals], but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.”
Of course, in fashion equally typical of Mr. Krauss, things take a nose-dive toward the absurd when he begins to widen his discussion of the Kim Davis case to the entire religion and science debate. The problem, simply, is that he neither pays attention to nor defines the pertinent terms. He quotes the English scientist J. B. S. Haldane: “My practice as a scientist is necessarily atheistic, that is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.”
The problem with this quotation is that it misunderstands atheism. Atheism is the philosophical stance or existential conviction that “there is no God,” but Krauss misconstrues atheism as methodological naturalism. The scientist is indeed a methodological naturalist in the sense that she assumes no divine interference with her experiments. But there is no corollary in this pragmatic naturalism necessitating belief that “there is no God,” nor antagonism towards religion. Krauss at least concedes that disbelief in God is not necessary or science either when he writes: “Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.”
But lack of belief either way is quite simply not atheism. Atheism, if it is to be a useful term in the God debate, necessarily takes a stance. Using the word “atheism” as a general term for those who do not have particular religious commitments (be they agnostic, atheistic, or simply apathetic) doesn’t identify where individuals really stand. So why does Krauss include this nearly vacuous term in his article’s title?
Read more: ethikapolitika.org