I have no quibble with Anders' welcome point that a sense of wonder (whether the Aristotelian prompt of proper philosophy or the sfnal sensawunda) often, even usually, involves a sense of humility. But I find it appalling that faith-traditions are identified in this formulation with humility (endless fundamentalist fulminations to the contrary notwithstanding) while atheism is tarred with a lack of humility. Anders complains at the outset of her piece:
You can't be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean. People who can't just profess that they don't believe in God -- they have to taunt religious people for believing in "fairy tales." Or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science... and yet, they won't recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.As it happens, I am on twitter and have never once experienced this bombardment. Perhaps Anders needs to prune her twitter feed? As an atheist queer and secular democratic socialist-feminist I must say that I find more frustrating the bombardment by anti-gay bigots and anti-abortion patriarchal pricks and greedhead climate change denialists waving their Bibles in my face.
When Anders says "Contemplating space and time in all of their massive strangeness is much like gazing into the naked face of God" this seems to me little different from a little child telling me that God is an old man with a grey beard in a big stone chair. Concretizing metaphorizations of the incomprehensible always only miscomprehend it -- isn't that what faith is supposed to be about? To the extent that god is a presumably omni-predicated originary being, we cannot actually attribute what we mean by "being" to god, since no known being is omni-predicated or originary. In Kantian parlance, one has to deny knowledge to make room for faith.
Proposing that all subjective experience is equally valid is, of course, either a vacuity or outright nonsense and Anders surely doesn't even mean what she is saying for a moment: A purely subjective experience that one keeps to oneself is at once "valid" but also immaterial in a way that almost inevitably provokes it into public testimony. And once I submit a claim as a candidate for warranted belief -- say, in the service of prediction and control -- it is subject to public scrutiny on the terms such claims are warranted as such. William James defined the true as the good in the way of belief, and added -- as people who quote James often fail to remember -- good for assignable reasons. The reasons are what matter here: It is the reasons that make experience reasonable. Although the criteria change, there are always such criteria -- whether the belief is a matter of moral, political, or aesthetic distinction.
As an atheist and a freethinker and a champion of consensus science who does not believe science has all the answers, I personally take exception to the suggestion that people who profess a belief in some god or other have more of a sense of wonder about existence than I do. As a lifelong reader of science fiction authors, I protest in the name of the endlessly many of them who were atheists, freethinkers, and skeptics like me that science fiction would be commandeered in the service of a defense of the superior sensibilities of people of religious faith.
If saying so reeks of "smugness" to apologists for organized religions at a time when organized religion is demonstrably one of the most pernicious forces in the world, I don't know if there is anything I can do to assuage their discomfort. May I recommend a good stiff drink, some nineteenth century poetry, or perhaps an appointment with a therapist (or hairdresser)? I can also recommend some good science fiction, as it happens. You see, I try to be helpful.