Friday, March 18, 2011

Skeptics vs. Atheists

Setting:  a dusty, mostly deserted desert town, somewhere in Arizona or Nevada.  Or maybe New Mexico. You know, someplace dry and dusty.
Crickets chirp; buzzards circle overhead; somewhere a wolf howls.
Slowly approaching down a dusty, deserted street, two weathered old fighters eye each other, each showing the signs of battles past in his wrinkled skin and watery eyes.  In the distant background somebody (probably named Zeke or something) plucks at a poorly tuned guitar.
“So,” says the first gunslinger, when the two antagonists are close enough to speak to each other, “this is it then.”
“Yup,” says the second fighter, then he turns and spits into the dust.  “I reckon so.”
Did I mention that it’s, like, really dusty?
“You ready to admit that ah’m right?” asks the first man.   

The second man growls, spits into the dust again, and shakes his head.  

“Come on,” pleads the first man, “you’ve read Dawkins. You’ve read Hitchins. Hell, you spend half your time readin’ PZ Myers’ blog.  There ain’t no way you can be a skeptic and not be a atheist too.”

The second man shrugs.  “And I’m sayin’ it is possible.  And I’m saying you better get used to it, ‘cause we’re not gonna get anywhere if we don’t figure out how to get along.”

The first man’s eyes squint, and he looks at his foe suspiciously. “You ain’t one of them no good accomodationists, is ya?” He says the word with the kind of loathing a man might have for a rattlesnake.

“Them’s fightin’ words,” growls the second man, and his fingers instinctively start to caress the on button to his ipad as he contemplates a 3,000 word blog post.  “I know lots of good skeptics that aren’t willing to rule out the existence of some kind of...”  he pauses, glances up into the sun with a weary expression, “supreme being.  Not me, of course,” he quickly adds, “but you know, other guys out there.” He waves an arm vaguely in the direction of California.

“But look,” says the first man, trying a different approach, “if you’re a skeptic ya gotta be skeptical of all kinds of nonsense - you can’t pick and choose what types of strange beliefs you’re gonna criticize.  You can’t say we’re gonna reject your UFOs and your alternative medicines and your pseudoscience, but we’ll leave your Gods alone.  You just can’t!”  He’s getting worked up, frustrated at his opponent’s position.

“That’s NOT what ah’m sayin’!” interrupts the second man. “I’m not talking about doctrine and dogma and rules and holy books and such.  There’s just some people who think you can reject all that nonsense and still think there’s something bigger out there that, I don’t know, started the whole process.”

“Then I guess we’re gonna have to settle this the old fashioned way,” growls the first man.

“I reckon you’re right,” answers they second. They glare at each other and move a tad closer.  A little dust blows into their eyes.  

Suddenly the doors to the nearby saloon are flung open and a local rushes out. “Hey,” he calls out to the two gunslingers, “there’s a feller in here selling some kind of ee-lixer!  Says it’ll cure just about anything that ails ya. Ya gotta see it!”  The local waits briefly to see if he’ll get any response, then shrugs and hurries back indoors.

For a long moment the two old fighters stare grimly at each other. Then, slowly, the corners of the first man’s lips curl up into a grin.  “An ee-lixer!” he says, shaking his head in contempt.

“Sounds like nonsense to me,” says the second man, also now smiling.

“Whattya say we go straighten that feller out,” says the first.  The second man smiles and nods and they walk, side by side, into the saloon, putting aside their argument for another day while they join forces to beat down another purveyor of pseudoscientific nonsense.

And besides, there’s beer inside.

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes,the eternal struggle. Well, the other eternal struggle. Maybe eternal is a little strong. How about, the old occasional 'dust-up'?