I had just read an article on Afarensis disputing one anti-evolutionist's claim that:
All the hominid fossils we have wouldn't fill a single coffin.Afarensis handily deals with this misconception, summarizing with:
The Catalogue of Fossil Hominids put out by the British Natural History Museum in 1976 listed over 3900 fossils. I've heard recent estimates in the 10,000 range. In short, DaveScot doesn't know what he is talking about.I found this amusing and related the story and the summary to my wife. She took it in, and sighed over the original claim. And then she stopped, leaned a bit against the piano behind her, and said, "You know...." That's when it happened. The breach! It wasn't complimentary -- in fact, it was a complaint. But that's really beside the point. It was dialog. Just a bit. But there it was.
She told me that she didn't like how I was always complaining. That all I ever did while "learning to become an atheist" was focus on how stupid intelligent design people were. She admitted that yes, they were in fact stupid (she's a biology major and understands even more of evolution than I do), but she didn't like me talking about it all of the time. She equated it to her constantly talking about how stupid Muslims were, or Jews were for, say, not beliving in Jesus' divinity. "You wouldn't like it if I did that all the time, would you?"
I decided to ignore the "learning to become an atheist" phrasing, even though I found it very insulting on a visceral level that I might explore later. It was probably just a slip of the tongue, probably in lieu of "learning about being an atheist." I was more interested in her use of the word "focus." I started wondering what, exactly, my focus is. Did atheists as a group have a focus, or was there only the focus of each individual atheist? How could I even begin to explain myself if I hadn't determined this distinction yet?
I'm not sure how she took my silence as I contemplated this, but she gave me a few seconds, told me "Think about that," and walked off.
It was not the best dialog I could have hoped for, but as I said it was a breach in our religion taboo and any breach is welcome. Best of all, she left me with something to contemplate.
It wasn't what she had really intended me to contemplate, of course. Her seeming interpretation of my atheism as a series of complaints against anti-evolutionists is simply because evolution is our common ground, so those are the stories and statistics that I relate to her. Specifically, it has been things like the public acceptance of evolution statistics, or gripes about Ken Ham's creation museum. Her analogy is poor because she is comparing the dispute over the scientifically supported concept of evolution with a dispute over an untestable traditional belief. In essense, comparing a dispute over fact with a dispute over opinion.
This is like a math student complaining to an english major that is spreading incorrect answers to math problems. When the math student calls him on the issue, the english major defends himself by saying, "You wouldn't like it if I spent all my time saying how stupid it is to like math, would you?" The correctness of math problems, which can be right or wrong, should not be compared with a preference or interest. Using this kind of correlation in an argument would be a logical fallacy known as a non sequitur. (which translates to "it doesn't follow")
Another aspect to her complaint is that the stories I relate and the complaints I make are usually over individuals, and very rarely regarding entire social/cultural groups. The only time I make comments on groups is when referring to statistical findings -- also very different from disputing traditions. When referring to individuals, I only need to say the words "Fred Phelps" to show that I am not the only one between the two of us that makes complaints of a religious action or belief!
But as I said, it was the term "focus" that really got me thinking. Do atheists, as a group, have a focus? Can we? In contrast, I would assume that a theists' focus could be something like, "follow the wisdom or Jesus," or "save as many souls as possible," or "wipe out the infidels," or "spread Christian love," or even just "live a good life and get to heaven," etc. But since the only real definition of atheism is the lack of any god belief I find that there is a corresponding lack of any atheistically-defined focus. We have no doctrine, therefore we can never have a doctrine-defined-focus. Instead, rather like discovering your own unique meaning of life, individual atheists must determine their own focus. Some examples are Dawkins, who has clearly stated that he hopes The God Delusion will change some minds and reduce the evils stemming from religion. Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor put much of their effort into defending the separation of church and state. The list goes on. But what is my focus?
I would have to say that my primary focus, lately, has been to become as educated an atheist as I can become. This includes becoming versed in god/atheism and evolution/ID arguments, spotting logical fallacies, learning more about the bible, learning more about world religions, and so on. My goal for this is to be able to hold my own in any discussions or debates that may come up, so that my position will never look like a weak one. A secondary focus is to be part of the larger atheist community in order to fill a social gap in my life, to start and contribute to discussions and reflections in order to learn more about myself and other atheists, and to find friends.
What my wife has interpreted as my only focus is actually a side-effect of a distant, third focus. As an atheist and a Bright, I am also acutely interested in truth. The scientist inside of me cringes every time I hear of such ridiculous misconceptions as the 'hominid coffin' statement above. I feel the need to try and counter the spread of such misconceptions and lies with an attempt to spread the truth. If I spend any time complaining about them, it is only my inner scientist trying to bury the lies. It is a reflex -- a gag reflex -- to spit out any garbage that has infected my day.
What is my focus? Knowledge, friendship, and truth. What is yours?