Debate Magazine

Why Every Atheist Should Read Scripture

By Carnun @Carnunmp


Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived – Isaac Asimov

I’m an open atheist around school and in general, and I never shy away from answering questions of my pro-science nature. I feel that I should match the proud wearing of my ‘Darwin-Fish‘ pin with an equally proud and proactive attitude towards confrontation – and this comes in the form of many discussions on religion, one of my favourite subjects.

I do like to start the whole process off by asking friends if they really believe all that their particular schools of reality dictate – to which the answer is usually “No, but…”, which always amuses me. Talking about and criticising religion is no taboo in my mind, and whether in good or bad company I express this. I see no reason to avoid the subject when it is surely entitled the same level of general questioning and inquiry felt by any other, just as I have never really seen any reason not to explore religious texts themselves.

Because of this attitude I decided a while ago to read both the Bible and the Qur’an. Admittedly each peruse was not exactly cover-to-cover (as they are rather tiresome texts), but I have read enough to form a valid opinion. Occasionally, at random, I would flick through to a page just for fun – squinting at the language used and every so often chuckling at the various profanities/archaic sentiments. My reasons? Being (I like to think) scientifically minded gave me my first motivation, as I felt the need to evaluate all possibilities before coming to an evidence-based view on life, the universe and everything. Needless to say I ended up siding with Asimov on this one; coming at the books from as neutral a standpoint as I could muster, they only reinforced my previous inklings of unbelief. Only someone repeatedly assured of their significance from an impressionable young age could ever take them seriously, I’m sure.

The second reason I decided to, in retrospect, bore myself for a time reading these tedious best-sellers was to – as I love it so much – aid my discussion abilities. You’ll find (and I have had it said of me) that open atheists tend to know more about the ins and outs of religiosity than your average believer. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes perfect sense when the average atheist seeks to learn while most indoctrinatees simply follow without further inquiry. Recently, chatting to a friend at school about the Qur’an and Bible I asked him what he thought of the fact that early on in Genesis it literally states that three days elapse before the sun is created. His responce?

I didn’t know that… I’ll have to look it up.

At least within my experience, this is typical. True, not every believer is a religious ‘scholar’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but when an infidel knows more than them about the details of what the they professes to believe then they’re doing something wrong… And the other is doing something very right.

Which brings me nicely to my last reason. It may sound sinister, but I can think of no other way to express it other than a wish to know my enemy. Before I elaborate, let me get this straight: I have nothing against religious people, only religion itself. In the rough words of American Physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

I do feel a tad sorry for those who so happily bask in the awe of ignorance rather than in the awe of understanding – but that’s a topic for another day. What I meant by ‘knowing my enemy’ was that, in a discussion situation, I’d prefer to be prepared for counter-’arguments’ from a steadfast believer than be blown away by their confusing nature. Too often an argument on religion is won by the religious party simply because they drown the other person in words which mean nothing to them, spew enough nonsense to render even the most talkative atheist speechless and then take that shocked silence as a sign of defeat. Just as every believer willing to discuss their beliefs is likely to be prepared for the argument, so should the atheistic half. And this doesn’t just cover a reading of scripture, as points made by the religious are so often wrongfully backed up by misunderstood science – like this example of the ever-ignorant question “How can evolution be true when the 2nd law of thermodynamics states…?”, the answer to which I’ll leave to this video.

I do not think that it’s scientifically right to dismiss anything without a thorough understanding of what it states and the context in which it is presented. Original reason-based, unbiased evaluation of all supposed evidence should take place before a conclusion is made; and if this is applied correctly to religion, it’s extremely likely that atheism – the most logical, science-endorsed standpoint – is eventually reached/confirmed… Once that happens, there is a need to be able to defend the atheistic standpoint, and ample ammunition for that is readily available in religious texts themselves, I feel. Every atheist should read scripture.

Have a nice post-apocalypse week,

Carnun :P

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