Climate change “skeptics” in the creationist role

We received an email from a relatively new atheist who is still coming to grips with various science-related issues now that he’s shed his theism.  He wrote:

After de-converting I’ve started reassessing some long held political beliefs that were based on my old religious beliefs. I’ve found that when I look at things from a skeptical point-of-view it is much easier to come to a rational political position than if I just accept things on faith or along party lines. Unfortunately I might be looking at things a little too skeptically. Here’s my current dilemma:

I’ve been studying the merits of accepting the concept of global warming. I am not a scientist, so I have to base my decision on the information that is available to me, which is usually dumbed down for mass consumption. I have done quite a bit of research outside of news articles, but I couldn’t really get far without hitting the political side of things. Unfortunately, I see way too many logical loopholes in the presentation; especially the Al Gore/liberal democrat presentation, which to be honest, sounds like it’s based on religious indoctrination.

It’s taken me quite a while to compose a reply, but the response touched on quite a lot of useful concepts about scientific claims, peer review, how laymen learn about complex scientific issues, and the political tactics of creationists.  While this isn’t always directly related to atheism, it’s one of those issues that comes up from time to time from atheist viewers, and it’s worth a discussion.

The rest of his letter, as well as my response, is below.

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Being an atheist doesn’t excuse you from doing your homework

Over on Camels With Hammers, Daniel has reminded us of several temptations that atheists should watch out for. It’s excellent advice, starting with this.

We atheists need to remind ourselves that figuring out that the interventionist gods of the major religions are false is a fairly easy intellectual discovery. We are not geniuses or especially smarter than the average religious believer simply on account of our ability to figure this out. We have just, for whatever combination of reasons, either assiduously avoided or managed to escape the emotional, social, and identity entanglements that cloud the minds of otherwise smart religious people. We need to recognize it is just stupid to call religious people stupid just because their ideas are ridiculous.

In general, I like to promote what I refer to as “atheist evangelism” as much as I can. But there are traps that atheists can fall into, when we get overconfident and lazy in the belief that atheism makes us smarter and less prone to errors. Recently I’ve made a similar point in a number of replies to the show’s email which I would like to share.
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