Is Atheism as Fundamentalist as Religion?

© Arun Madhavan

Recently one of my close friends had to undergo chemotherapy and finally organ transplantation for cancer. It was a time of great stress and sorrow for all of us.


As a doctor who was closely following his ordeal fighting the illness, I was not surprised to see that it was not the disease itself, but its treatment that made him suffer more. Moreover it was a costly suffering too, as the treatment was expensive. But many of his family members were distressed seeing  that the treatment was punishing his body so much. Fortunately the patient himself remained strong and had no doubt that those sufferings and expenses were necessary to win over cancer.


How can a person undergo a treatment which caused a lot of suffering, fully believing that it’s for his good? How can a team of doctors make an outwardly normal-looking person undergo so much expensive suffering ?


The answer to both questions is their belief in Science. It’s science that is predicting that this outwardly normal-looking guy will die in few months time if he does not undergo radical treatment. It’s also predicting that though chemotherapy and organ transplant are distressing , they are all that will help the patient defeat the cancer and live a long life.


Many people all around the world have strong  beliefs not about science, but about holy books, gods, religion, god men and women.


Is belief in Science the same as belief in religion or holy books or in god men?


Many theists do complain that atheists / rationalists who believe in Science are as fundamentalist as those who believe in one real way of life, the way of their religion. They claim that though theists believe in God/religion, most of them – unlike atheists – do not negate other ways of attaining wisdom and salvation.


Is belief in Science the same as belief in religion?Of course NO.Actually what atheists  believe is not in Science as an unquestioned deity, but in the method of Science to find the truth.


What is the “scientific method”?

What is method of science?  The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as “a method or procedure consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”


First, we are observing phenomena in a systematic manner. The observed things are measured as accurately as possible. Then we derive a hypothesis from the observation. It can be something like, “A causes B.” Then, we try to predict things using our hypothesis. E.g., if there is no A , there will not be any B.


Now we test the hypothesis by experiments or further observations. Our hypothesis may be proved fully correct, partially correct or completely wrong. We then modify the hypothesis as per the results of the experiment. The modified hypothesis is again tested, and if needed, again modified. Finally we reach a hypothesis which is consistent with results of the experiments. Such a hypothesis is called a theory.


Repeatability and falsifiability are the the 2 most important characteristics of scientific method. The theory can be repeatedly tested and proved by different people at different times.A  falsifiable theory means there must be some experiment or discovery that can prove the theory false. A theory which cannot be falsified is not considered a scientific theory. Do atheists/rationalists have unquestioned belief in this method of science? The answer is, again, no. If any other method can improve the accuracy of predicting things, that too can be incorporated into method of science.


So when theists believe unquestioningly in their holy books or preachers or in God, atheists believe in only those things for which there is scientific proof.


Let me come back to my friend again. I am sure many might have asked him to look for other alternatives to chemotherapy and transplantation.Why can’t you try that herb recommended by that film star and politician?Why can’t you try our time tested Ayurveda?What about naturopathy, the natural way of healing? Why are you poisoning your body like this? Why don’t you go and pray before that God-woman? She will save you.


But my friend was an evidence-based medicine fundamentalist. He wanted to follow only that treatment which had scientific evidence to support it. In front of him there was no alternate path which follows scientific method and is evidence-based.


Yes, we can call atheists fundamentalists,  not to atheism but for scientific evidence-based beliefs.


In our lives, whether in treating cancer or following a belief system, when we follow the path based on scientific method, we can be sure of one thing: that way is the best way available to reach the truth.


See More from Arun HERE

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