August 15, 2011

A Commitment to Reason

Faith and reasonAtheists are more rational than religious believers, right? Wrong! Have you seen how irrational some atheists are? Atheism is no guarantee of rationality. Even if we restrict ourselves to claiming that atheists are more rational than religious believers on the question of gods, we have to be careful. While many atheists do indeed arrive at atheism through the application of reason, this is certainly not true for all atheists. And even those of us who place great value on reason behave irrationally far more than we'd care to admit or than we might realize.

Rationality is aspirational. By that, I mean that it is something to which we should aspire and not something about which we can ever honestly claim, "I have arrived." We strive to be rational, but we must recognize our limitations. All of us are going to fall short from time to time. That doesn't mean we give up; it means we try to learn from our mistake and do better next time.

It was suggested in the comments to a recent post on the importance of atheist community that one of the things that can help to unite atheists is our commitment to rationality. I agree that this is something that should characterize our movement. Again and again, we have seen how irrationality leads to poor decisions and wasted resources. We see what happens when the data are ignored in favor of ideology. A shared striving to apply reason in our endeavors would be a valuable attribute indeed.

When we think about what a politically active atheist movement would look like, the first thing that always comes to mind is promoting separation of church and state. But a close second involves injecting reason into the political process. We are well-positioned to play a vital role here. We can take on the task of promoting reason and critical thinking.

Although there are many obstacles to committing oneself to reason, perhaps the most significant is that it is part of our nature to form emotional attachments to things and ideas. I'm not saying that we should have no emotional attachments. But we do need to monitor them and realize that they often interfere with our ability to be rational.
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