Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

God or not, can’t we all just get along?

By Johan van den Kerkhof

THE other day I was watching on YouTube a lecture by the delightful Neil deGrasse Tyson. So he brings up a chart of the well-known 2006 survey by Miller et al. that polled people in different countries on their belief in the theory of evolution. Tyson was rightfully distraught at the fact the United States ranked last. And you know which country sat ‘proudly’ just above the USA at the bottom of the table?

You guessed it. Yep, only 45 per cent of Cypriots believed in evolution, the rest either saying the theory is false or that they were unsure.

Not good. In all fairness though, let me tell you something about polls: they’re stupid. Especially when you’re interviewing Cypriots. Islanders are so politically correct, prudish even, forget about taking the ‘pulse’ of the nation.

There was this other survey on the reintroduction of traffic cameras, and most Cypriots were in favour! Yeah right! You’re either lying or out of your frickin’ mind, son.

How about that for a segue? Frankly, I was just looking for an axe to grind, and Tyson’s video got me going. So here it is: yes, people who believe in a bearded old man up in the sky – or an afterlife – are deluded. But you know what? Leave them be.

Folks like Richard Dawkins, who goes all ballistic and militant against religion, really put me off. And I’m not trolling here. I mean it, I don’t like the guy. Dawkins comes across as a fanatic, which to my mind is a disservice to free thinkers. Then there’s Dr. Peter Boghossian, who advocates treating religious people as mentally ill and has devised a programme to ‘convert’ them back to evidence-based beliefs. That’s just taking it too far. If you’re truly a free thinker, you don’t want to be proselytizing.

Believers and unbelievers operate on different wavelengths, and there’s no way they can engage in a fruitful exchange, period. And that’s OK. It’s simple: the moment human beings initiate a conversation – and assuming they’re not fooling around – inevitably they’ll at some point and to some degree have to resort to reason by virtue of the fact they’re using language. Sure, there’s all sorts of linguistic tricks you can pull, sophistry etc, and both sides are becoming more sophisticated at that. But at the end of the day when talking you must use rationale.

That’s why a religious person can never win the argument for, by definition, he or she ultimately draws on (blind) faith, not rationality. There is not a shred of evidence for what they claim – not to mention many of their claims defy logic and science – and yet they are undaunted. So ignore them.

Give you a hypothetical: you and I are having a normal conversation, when suddenly I say to you that dragon-like creatures are floating about in the stratosphere. You look at me funny at first, but then ask me to back up my claim. Obviously I can’t. I “just know.” Having failed to demonstrate my case, will you take me seriously? Hell no. The best thing you can do is politely excuse yourself and walk away from this loser.

Same thing with this religion and God business. Often I hear this proposition bandied about by smart-ass believers. You’re all familiar with it, it’s the “absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” But who cares? Remember, the burden of proof is on the person who first makes an assertion.
Not the other way around.

To those who might still want to wiggle out of this one, picture how the first ever conversation in human history about God went down. Multiple choice question. The first statement went as follows: (a) Hey Abe, God exists; or (b) Hey Abe, God doesn’t exist.

It goes without saying that the first statement would be the positive one, i.e. option (a). Next the other fellow would demand corroboration, and so on and so forth, for millennia.

We’re not saying we have proof that God does not exist. Besides, that would be a retarded thing to say, and even stupider of you religious folks to expect us to say it so that you can then “win” the argument. The bottom line is, so far you’ve got nothing, and you know we’re right because you yourselves admit it. So until you have any tangible or useful information to bring to the table, please let’s not waste our time. Meantime, can’t we all just get along?

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