I keep running into people who claim that being Atheists automatically makes them rational, while those who, as they say, have any sort of religious beliefs are not. I find that to be a very strange statement, seeing as, for all practical purposes, Atheism is a religion like any other. (You probably also noticed that I’m capitalizing the name, as I would for any religion and the associated adjective.) It may be far less unreasonable than most organized religions, seeing as it doesn’t reject proven scientific facts or make impossible predictions only to desperately look for equally impossible excuses when they don’t come to pass, but that doesn’t in any way change the fact that it is based on unproven beliefs regarding religious matters, which is just the definition of a religion.
The fact of the matter is that the only truly rational approach to matters of religion is agnosticism. We do not currently have the capacity to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of a deity or deities, souls or any sort of continuation of life after the death of the physical body. We also have nothing more than unproven and possibly unprovable theories about the appearance of the first form of life or about what was before the Big Bang, if you even assume that the Big Bang theory is correct, which is already a big if. As a result, if you want to be completely rational, the only thing you can say about any and all such matters is that you don’t know and you can’t know the answers. Anything other than that implies having a hypothesis regarding a matter outside of the realm currently covered by science. In other words, it implies having a religious belief.
What’s quite interesting about Atheism is that, even in its most basic form, namely the belief that no deities exist, it could never be proven as correct. Considering the size of the universe, evolutionary models and the capacity for technological development over such long stretches of time, it is in fact extremely improbable that no beings that we would consider as deities, regardless of how they would consider themselves, exist anywhere in it, and that’s even without taking other potential planes of existence into account. (Whether or not they have, or ever had, anything to do with our tiny planet is not the question here, as we are simply talking about their existence.) There is simply no way to prove that something does not exist in the universe other than omniscience, or at the very least omnipresence, and if you had either of those then you would negate your own hypothesis because, based on any definition we are currently aware of, you would be a deity yourself.
If we go further, it becomes perhaps even more unlikely because even the definitions are more and more blurred. For example, what if multiple dimensions and multiple universes existed, as even quite a few scientists claim? Would it not be possible to consider those as different planes of existence? Where do you draw the line? And how could you draw one when current science only deals with a part of the known material world on this one plane? How can you claim it’s rational to completely reject the existence of something that current scientific methods are simply unable to even grasp, much less analyze?
It is said that quantum physics proves that everything is magic. However, no current scientific method can look for anything that could potentially be described as a soul, which implies that no current scientific method can look for anything that requires one, such as reincarnation or astral projection. It is equally unscientific to claim that you can prove that such things exist as it is to claim that you can prove that they do not. The simple lack of hard evidence in favor of a concept does not constitute hard evidence against it, particularly when the subject can’t even be analyzed. And that, in fact, is one potential definition of religion: Something which science cannot disprove. An unfalsifiable theory.
In the end, religious beliefs that do not contradict proven scientific facts, including those that find flaws and loopholes in current scientific theories that could perhaps still allow them to be true in certain contexts, are potentially as valid as scientific hypotheses. I could even go one step further and simply call them religious hypotheses. And I think we need such religious hypotheses because, no matter how rational it may be, agnosticism is very much true to its name in the sense that it doesn’t advance knowledge. You need a hypothesis before you can have a theory, and you need a very clearly proven theory before you can claim that something is known. If you shy away from forming personal hypotheses because the matter at hand is not already known, how could it ever become known?
But here lies the problem: An unproven hypothesis needs to remain personal and not be forced upon others who did not freely choose to believe in it as well. Whether it claims that something exists or, quite the contrary, that it does not, a religious belief, or religious hypothesis, can be beneficial to a person or a group if it is freely chosen and provides them with hope, comfort, empowerment, closure or a sense of purpose. What’s more, it can potentially be beneficial to the whole world if it could somehow open the way to a theory and, ultimately, to furthering knowledge and expanding the realm of science by discovering facts outside its current boundaries. However, it very quickly becomes very harmful if forced upon those who do not freely agree and disempowers, restricts or otherwise harms them without being backed by any solid evidence. And, unfortunately, this is yet another piece of evidence in support of the claim I made in the title of this post, as militant Atheists are just as bad as fundamentalist Christians or Muslims or any others who try to force their unproven beliefs upon others.
Perhaps someday we will learn to be rational enough not to reject clearly proven facts simply because of outdated superstitions, but also to respect each other’s beliefs when it comes to matters that have not been proven one way or the other. Perhaps someday, by doing that, we will make new and currently unbelievable discoveries. As a result, perhaps someday we will directly meet or possibly even become the gods we currently may or may not believe exist. For now, however, it is important not to think we are different, not to mention better, than others who are in fact doing the same things we are. It is important to know who we are, but equally important to focus more on what brings us together than on what sets us apart.